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Decoding the Food Label


Jun 1, 2005

Nutrition information provided here is not a substitute for your individual diabetes self management care plan. Any changes should be discussed with your healthcare team.

Part One: Carbohydrate Counting

Have you ever wondered how to count the carbohydrates on a food label? Does it really matter how many grams of sugar are in a food? Do “sugar free” and “calorie free” mean the same thing? Do you need to count the fiber in your breakfast cereal as carbohydrate?

This month, Diabetes Health provides detailed information on how to count carbohydrates from food labels.

Food Label Basics

Serving Size: The information on the label is based on the serving size amount, which is listed as one serving in household measure and in metric units (grams).

Total Carbohydrate: This indicates the total grams of carbohydrate per serving. This amount includes dietary fiber, sugars, sugar alcohols and any other sources of carbohydrate.

Dietary Fiber: The grams of dietary fiber per serving are listed under the total carbohydrate section. This amount is included in the total grams of carbohydrates. Dietary fiber may have less impact on blood glucose since it is not absorbed 100 percent and it releases glucose into the cells more slowly. The American Diabetes Association recommends that if a food has more than 5 grams of fiber per serving, you can subtract the amount of dietary fiber from the total carbohydrate. However, synthetic forms of fiber are being added to many processed foods, which may not provide the same benefit as natural foods. You may want to initially subtract only half of the fiber and check your glucose level after meals containing high-fiber foods.

Sugar: The grams of sugar (natural or added) listed per serving are also counted in the total grams of carbohydrate.

“Sugar Alcohols” or “Sugar Replacers” may also be listed on the label beneath the Total Carbohydrate heading. Sugar alcohols contain approximately 2 calories per gram, which is less than the typical 4 calories per gram for sugar. Since sugar alcohols have less effect on blood glucose than sugar, a general rule is to subtract half of the sugar alcohol from the total carbohydrate. There is some question about whether all sugar alcohols provide the same blood glucose benefit—the best way to evaluate their effect is to test your blood glucose after eating these products.

Net Carbs: This is a term used by the food industry on labels. Net carbs is calculated by subtracting all of the fiber and all the sugar alcohols from the total carbohydrate. The resulting “net carbs” is supposed to be the only carbs that affect your blood glucose or insulin levels. This term is allowed though not used or accepted by the American Diabetes Association.

Nutrition Claim Definition
Calorie free Less than 5 calories per serving
Fat free Less than 0.5 g fat per serving
Sugar free Less than 0.5 g sugars per serving
Reduced calorie At least 25% fewer calories than regular food
Reduced fat At least 25% less fat than regular food *
Reduced sugars At least 25% less sugar than regular food
“Lite” Contains 1/3 the calories of the original food
Low carbohydrate, net carbohydrate or impact carbohydrate Currently there are no set definitions for these terms

* For example, if you purchase a “reduced fat” peanut butter and the original peanut butter had 16 grams of fat, the reduced item would have 12 grams of fat or less.


Categories: Blood Glucose, Diabetes, Diabetes, Diets, Food, Insulin, Low Carb, Nutrition Advice



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Jun 1, 2005

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