Diabetic or not, a consumer needs to make wise choices about food. Food labels help.
Here are my tips.
The serving size: Serving sizes are provided in familiar units, such as cups or pieces, followed by the amount of nutrients (carbs, fats, sugar etc.) one serving contains. This information can be misleading since in most cases you may end up consuming more than the serving size (who has just one cookie....really!) mentioned on the label. Ask yourself, "How many servings am I consuming"? - 1/2 serving, 1 serving, or more?
Next, check total calories per serving and how many servings you’re really consuming. If you double the servings you eat, you double the calories and nutrients. Choose products that are low to moderate in calories per serving i.e., 50 to 200kcals and keep away from anything that is more than 350kcal per serving.
Per 100g column: The 100ng column is the most frequently used. Use this to compare similar products. .For example, to find a breakfast cereal with the highest fibre content, compare the fibre per 100g of different cereals. Here are some tips to help identify healthier food items based on their nutrient content:
Fat: As a general guide, choose foods with less than 10 g total fat per 100 g. Choose milk products with less than 2 g saturated fat per 100 g (e.g. low fat yoghurt has less than 2 g total fat per 100 g and Low fat milk has less than 1g total fat per 100g). Healthy products would be with less than11-13 grams of saturated fat as little trans fat as possible and low in cholesterol. When the Nutrition Facts label says a food contains “0 g” of trans fat, but includes “partially hydrogenated oil” in the ingredient list, it means the food contains trans fat, but less than 0.5 grams of trans fat per serving. So, if you eat more than one serving, you would be consuming substantial quantities of this ugly fat.
An important thing to remember is that trans fat quantities are usually measured in the raw material by the manufacturers, which is deceptive, because raw materials for processed foods may not contain trans fat by themselves, but the cooking process (such as baking) may convert the benign fats into trans fat. In a perfect world, all nutrient information on a label would be mentioned post processing, but we’re not that lucky.
Sugar : Pick up low sugar breakfast cereal and yogurt that have less than 15 g sugar per 100 g. Choose other foods with less than 10 g sugar per 100 g.
Sugar goes by many names in labels, many of which you may not recognize. So look out for cane sugar, invert sugar, corn sweetener, dextran, molasses, malt syrup, maltose, evaporated cane juice, high fructose corn syrup, honey, rice syrup, agave nectar, maple syrup etc in the list of ingredients. All of these are basically sugar and therefore will have the similar effect on your blood sugar levels.
Avoid drinks with more than 2.5 g carbohydrate per 100 g. Don’t hate me for saying this but your daily can of soda or carbonated beverage is out the window! (Including the “Zero calories” ones).
When buying packaged food pick up items with nutrients such as: dietary fiber, protein, calcium, iron, vitamins and other nutrients you need every day. Choose foods with more than 6 g fiber per 100 g. On the other hand avoid excesses of any packaged or processed foods including those items that are “fortified” labeling.
Salt/sodium: Choose food with low sodium content i.e., less than 120 mg per 100 g and avoid food that has more than 600 mg per 100 g.
% Daily Value: The % Daily Value (DV) / Daily Recommended amount tells you the percentage of each nutrient in a single serving.
As a guide, if you want to consume less of a nutrient (such as saturated fat or sodium), choose foods with a lower % DV — 5 percent or less. If you want to consume more of a nutrient (such as fibre) seek out foods with a higher % DV — 20% or more.
Remember that the information shown in this column of the label is based on 2000 calories a day diet. You may need to consume less or more than 2000 calories depending upon your age, gender, activity level, and whether you’re trying to lose, gain or maintain your weight.
Look at the list of Ingredients
A good rule of thumb is to scan the first three ingredients, because they are the largest part of what you’re eating.
Ingredients are listed in order of quantity from largest to smallest. Sugar, fat and salt are often listed in the ingredient list under different names. Therefore, healthier ingredients can be listed at the top, and sugar (by any other name...is still sugar) further down. So a product loaded with sugar, doesn’t necessarily show it as one of the top ingredients.
If the first ingredients include refined grains, some sort of sugar or hydrogenated oils, you can be pretty sure that the product is unhealthy. Instead, try to choose items that have whole foods listed as the first three ingredients.
Another good rule of thumb is if the ingredients list is longer than 2–3 lines, you can assume that the product is highly processed.
If you or someone in your family has food allergies to gluten, lactose, nuts etc, food labels are your first step in avoiding potentially serious situations.
So, before you drop a package in your supermarket basket read before you eat!
Author Pariksha Rao is based in Bengaluru, India. She is a clinical nutritionist, IDF certified diabetes educator, sports nutritionist and a lactation expert, with more than a decade of experience across pharmaceuticals, hospitals and research sectors. Having trained over a 1000 paramedics on personalised patient/ consumer care and counselling, Pariksha believes counselling is a holistic approach to achieve long term behaviour modification by setting mutual, achievable, measurable and realistic short term goals.