How a Person With Diabetes Should Read a Nutrition Label


By: Karmeen Kulkarni

Many educational materials are available that can help a person who has diabetes make healthy food choices. Nutrition labels on various foods can be especially useful for preparing and analyzing a meal plan and choosing foods that are right for your individual needs.

All nutrition labels must contain an ingredients list and a nutrition facts panel. They may also provide information about health and nutrient content claims.

Ingredients List

The ingredients list specifies exactly what is in the food. This knowledge is important for anyone who has food allergies or a reaction to a particular ingredient. It is also helpful if you want to avoid an ingredient for religious purposes.

Ingredients are listed in decreasing order by weight. Thus, if flour is the first ingredient on the list, the product contains more flour than any other ingredient. If flour is 15th on the list, you can assume that the product contains a much smaller amount of flour.

If sugar—such as sucrose (table sugar), honey, corn syrup, or molasses, for example—has been added to a food, it always appears in the ingredients list. If a sugar is naturally occurring, however, it does not appear in the list of ingredients. Instead, it is included in the total carbohydrate and sugar listing on the nutrition facts panel.

Both added sugar and naturally occurring sugar are sources of carbohydrate and will affect your blood glucose. The total amount of carbohydrate that you eat is more important than the type of carbohydrate (for example, a starch carbohydrate or a sugar carbohydrate).

Sugar can be a part of your food choices—if you plan it as part of the total amount of carbohydrate that you eat during a meal or snack. Testing your blood-glucose level after you eat will help you decide how much carbohydrate you can plan for yourself.

Nutrition Facts Panel

The nutrition facts panel provides the following information:

  • Serving size
  • Number of servings in the container
  • Total calories and calories from fat per serving
  • Percent daily value, based on the recommended total daily amounts for all nutrients listed
  • Total fat, which includes the grams of saturated fat
  • Cholesterol
  • Sodium
  • Total amount of carbohydrate, which includes the grams of fiber and sugars
  • Amount of protein
  • Percentages of vitamins A and C, calcium and iron

Serving Size and Servings Per Container

The serving size is always the same (by weight) for the same type of product. For instance, all manufacturers of soy milk must use the same serving size. All the other information on the label is based on the serving size—that is, if the label reads “Total Carbohydrate 6g,” it means that one serving, of the specified size, contains 6 grams of carbohydrate.

If you are using the food exchange system for diabetes management, remember that the serving size on the food label might not match the serving size of one of your exchanges. For example, the label on juice lists a serving size as 1 cup, but a serving of juice (an exchange) for most people with diabetes is one-half cup. Therefore, if you want to calculate the nutritional content of your one-half cup of juice, you need to divide all the other information on the food label in half.

Total Calories and Calories From Fat

This information is helpful if you are trying to reduce or control the number of calories you eat each day. If you are trying to restrict your fat intake, you can use this data to figure out the percentage of fat calories in the food: Just divide the fat calories per serving by the total calories per serving and multiply that number by 100 to get the percentage.

Percent Daily Value

The percentages in this column have been calculated for fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, total carbohydrate and dietary fiber, based on a 2,000-calorie-per-day meal plan.


Total Fat

Several types of fats are included in this category:

  • Saturated fats raise cholesterol levels in the blood and increase your risk of heart disease and stroke. The healthy choices are foods with minimal or no saturated fat.
  • Polyunsaturated fats are neutral fats. They neither raise nor lower your blood cholesterol level.
  • Monounsaturated fats are heart-friendly fats that help to lower the cholesterol level in the blood.


Reducing cholesterol intake helps to lower the cholesterol level in the blood, decreasing your risk of heart disease and stroke.


Too much sodium can cause some individuals to retain water. If you have high blood pressure or have been asked to lower your sodium intake, try to eat less than 2,400 milligrams of sodium each day.

Total Amount of Carbohydrate

This amount includes the total grams of starch, sugar and fiber. Dietary fiber can help to lower blood cholesterol and glucose levels slightly, and it is also important for overall health. The grams of sugar noted on the label include both added and naturally present sugar.

Carbohydrate foods raise blood-glucose levels after a meal. You should be aware of your carbohydrate budget per meal. You can count 15 grams of carbohydrate as a carbohydrate serving, or one carbohydrate choice.


Remember that 1 ounce of beef, lamb, pork, fish, or poultry provides approximately 7 grams of protein. Check this against your recommended protein amount for a meal or snack.

Vitamins and Minerals

The nutrition facts panel must provide information for vitamins A and C, calcium and iron. Other vitamins and minerals that might be listed include vitamins D, E, B6, and B12 as well as thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, folate, biotin, pantothenic acid, phosphorus, iodine, magnesium, zinc, copper, and potassium.



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