Decoding the Food Label

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Have you ever wondered how to countthe carbohydrates on a food label? Doesit really matter how many grams of sugarare in a food? Do “sugar free” and “caloriefree” mean the same thing? Do you needto count the fiber in your breakfast cereal ascarbohydrate?

This month, Diabetes Health provides detailedinformation on how to count carbohydratesfrom food labels.

Food Label Basics

Serving Size: The information on the labelis based on the serving size amount, which islisted as one serving in household measureand in metric units (grams).

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

Dietary Fiber: The grams of dietaryfiber per serving are listed under the totalcarbohydrate section. This amount is included in the total grams of carbohydrates.Dietary fiber may have less impact on bloodglucose since it is not absorbed 100 percentand it releases glucose into the cells moreslowly. The American Diabetes Associationrecommends that if a food has more than 5grams of fiber per serving, you can subtractthe amount of dietary fiber from the totalcarbohydrate. However, synthetic forms offiber are being added to many processedfoods, which may not provide the samebenefit as natural foods. You may wantto initially subtract only half of the fiberand check your glucose level after mealscontaining high-fiber foods.

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

“Sugar Alcohols” or “Sugar Replacers” mayalso be listed on the label beneath the TotalCarbohydrate heading. Sugar alcoholscontain approximately 2 calories per gram,which is less than the typical 4 calories pergram for sugar. Since sugar alcohols haveless effect on blood glucose than sugar, ageneral rule is to subtract half of the sugaralcohol from the total carbohydrate. Thereis some question about whether all sugaralcohols provide the same blood glucosebenefit—the best way to evaluate their effectis to test your blood glucose after eatingthese products.

Net Carbs: This is a term used by the foodindustry on labels. Net carbs is calculated bysubtracting all of the fiber and all the sugaralcohols from the total carbohydrate. Theresulting “net carbs” is supposed to be theonly carbs that affect your blood glucose orinsulin levels. This term is allowed though notused or accepted by the American DiabetesAssociation.

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 youpurchase a “reduced fat”peanut butter and theoriginal peanut butter had16 grams of fat, the reduceditem would have 12 gramsof fat or less.

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