NMSU: Control your Diabetes for Life: Nutrition Series - How to Read a Nutrition Facts Label
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Control Your Diabetes for Life: Nutrition Series

Circular 631B: How to Read a Nutrition Facts Label

Authors: Karen Halderson, MPH, RD, CDE Extension Diabetes Coordinator; and Martha Archuleta, PhD, RD Extension Food and Nutrition Specialist.


  • Remember that 15 grams of carbohydrate is a serving.
  • Look at Total Carbohydrate, not just at Sugars, to see if a food will raise blood sugar.
  • Always compare serving sizes on nutrition labels to those listed with the Diabetes Food Guide Pyramid.
  • Look carefully at the number of servings per container. The amount of calories and nutrients listed on the label applies to one serving, not necessarily to the full quantity of food in the container.
  • Calories are a measure of the amount of energy in food. You can compare the amount of calories in similar products if the serving sizes are the same.
  • Look at both the amount of calories and the amount of total fat when comparing the regular and low fat versions of a food. Low fat doesn’t necessarily mean low calorie.
  • Look for foods with less saturated and trans fats. Choose the leanest cuts of meat.
  • Cholesterol intake should be 300 mg or less per day.
  • Look for foods that contain 400 mg of sodium or less per serving.

The Nutrition Facts label on food (Figure 1) contains information that can be helpful to people with diabetes.

Fig. 1: Nutrition Facts label, french fries
Figure 1. Nutrition Facts label, french fries.

Serving Size

Compare this to the serving size listed with the Diabetes Food Guide Pyramid. For example, the serving size listed on a bottle of orange juice is 8 oz, but the serving size listed with the Diabetes Food Guide is 1/2 cup, which is 4 oz. You may need to make adjustments so that you are comparing similar serving sizes.

Servings Per Container

Look carefully at the number of servings per container. A container that appears to be one serving may contain more than one serving.

Amount Per Serving

The amount of calories and nutrients listed on the label applies to one serving, not necessarily to the full quantity of food in the container.

Calories

Calories are a measure of the amount of energy in food. You can compare the amount of calories in similar products if the serving sizes are the same.

Total Fat

Look at both the amount of calories and the amount of total fat when comparing the regular and low fat versions of a food. Low fat doesn’t necessarily mean low calorie.

Saturated Fat

Saturated fat comes mainly from animal-based foods. Saturated fat raises total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol levels in the blood. Look for foods with less saturated fat.

Trans Fat

Trans fat is found mainly in processed foods. Trans fat also raises total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol levels in the blood. Trans fat is now listed on the label. Look for foods with little or no trans fat.

Cholesterol

Cholesterol is found in animal-based foods. Cholesterol intake should be 300 mg or less per day.

Sodium

In general, sodium intake should be less than 2,400 mg per day. Look for foods that contain 400 mg of sodium or less per serving. For a frozen convenience dinner or entrée, look for one that contains 800 mg of sodium or less. People with kidney disease may need to have a lower daily sodium intake.

Total Carbohydrate

This is probably the most important information for a person with diabetes. Remember that 15 grams of carbohydrate is a serving. By looking at the grams of total carbohydrate in a food, you can figure out how many servings of carbohydrate it has. Most foods don’t have exactly 15 grams of carbohydrate. Table 1 can be helpful in estimating carbohydrate servings.

Table 1. Estimating carbohydrate servings

Carbohydrate
servings
Target grams of
carbohydrates
Range of grams
of carbohydrates
1 15 8–22
2 30 23–37
3 45 38–52
4 60 53–65

Dietary Fiber

A food that contains 5 grams of fiber or more per serving is considered high fiber. A food that contains 2.5 to 4.9 grams of fiber per serving is considered a good source of fiber.

Sugars

A food product that states “no added sugar” or “sugar-free” can still contain other carbohydrates. Look at Total Carbohydrate, not just at Sugars, to see if a food will raise blood sugar.

Protein

Meats contain saturated fat and cholesterol as well as protein. Choose the leanest cuts of meat. Choose low-fat cooking methods for meat, poultry and fish. People with kidney disease may need to restrict the amount of protein they eat each day.


Where to Go for More Information

  • Your health care provider
  • American Diabetes Association: 1-800-DIABETES www.diabetes.org
  • National Diabetes Education Program: 1-800-438-5383 or visit the World Wide Web at ndep.nih.gov or www.cdc.gov
  • New Mexico Diabetes Prevention and Control Program www.diabetesnm.org
  • Your county Extension office

This publication was made possible by grants from New Mexico State University’s Cooperative Extension Service and the New Mexico Department of Health Diabetes Prevention and Control Program.

New Mexico State University is an equal opportunity/affirmative action employer and educator. NMSU and the U.S. Department of Agriculture cooperating.

Printed and electronically distributed October 2007, Las Cruces, NM.