Reading food labels

Paying attention to ingredients and knowing how to read food labels will help you plan your diet sensibly. It is important to understand how to read food labels. Ingredients are listed on food labels in descending order according to weight. For example, if you see 'sugar' listed as the first ingredient on the label, the product may cause a rapid rise in your blood glucose and it should not be eaten in large quantities.

Foods with sugar listed as the second or lower ingredient on the label can be included in your meal plan. They should be counted in the appropriate food group. Ask your dietitian how to include foods that include sugar in your meal plan. Special diebetic foods are expensive and are generally not needed by a person with diabetes.

Here are a few tips to help you interpret some common label claims:

  • No Added Sugar or Unsweetened means that there is no added sugar, but natural sugar may be present. You should count it as you would expect that particular food would be counted in your meal plan.

    Example: Unsweetened peaches contain no added sugar, but still contain the natural sugar found in the peach and should be counted as fruit.

    Example: Light pudding made with Nutrasweet has no added sugar but still contains the natural sugar found in the milk and starch. You should count it as a milk choice.

  • Sugar Free means that there is less than 0.25 g of sugar per 100 g and no more than 1 calorie per 100 g. Foods with this claim can often be counted as an Extra Food Choice.

    Example: Sugar-free pop.

  • Calorie-reduced or Carbohydrate-reduced means that the product has been reduced by 50% in calories or carbohydrate compared to the original product. It is difficult to determine if these products are good choices based on the claim. If in doubt, ask your dietitian.

  • Cholesterol Free or Low Cholesterol means that the product does not contain any or only small amounts of animal fat. This does not necessarily mean the product is low in fat.

    Example: Vegetable oil is cholesterol-free but is made almost entirely of fat.

  • Low in Fat means there is 3 g of fat per serving.

    Example: Ready-to-eat breakfast cereal may be "fat free" and have less than 3 g of fat per serving, but the serving size is only ¼ cup (50 mL). This is actually a very small serving of cereal.

  • Light or Lite means that some component of the product has been reduced by 25 - 50%. This claim may mean this product is a good choice.

    Example: Light mayonnaise has 1/3 of the calories found in regular mayonnaise. But make sure you read the label carefully, the term light can also refer to flavour, taste or texture.

    Example: Light olive oil is not light in calories or fat. It is light in taste.

Read food labels carefully. If you are in doubt about a product, check with your dietitian.

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