Decoding the Nutrition Label: Tips for people with diabetes

Many people with diabetes use the Nutrition Label to find out about the amount of carbohydrates, fibre, sugar and fat in certain foods. The Nutrition Label includes the Nutrition Facts Table, the ingredient list, health claims and nutrient content claims. Read on to learn how to use the different parts of the Nutrition Label to help you manage your diabetes.

Nutrition Facts Table 

The Nutrition Facts Table provides information about calories and 13 nutrients.  In general, if you are managing diabetes, you will want to pay special attention to: Carbohydrates: The amount of carbohydrate on the Nutrition Facts Table is for total carbohydrate, which includes starch, fibre and sugars. If you are counting carbohydrates, you need to subtract the amount of fibre from the total carbohydrate listed. Fibre does not raise your blood glucose.

Fibre: Fibre helps control blood glucose and lower blood cholesterol levels. Aim to get 25-50g of fibre per day. That’s the amount recommended for people with diabetes. You can also compare the % Daily Value (%DV) of fibre between similar products. A product with 15% DV or more is a higher fibre choice.

Sugars: The amount of sugar on the Nutrition Facts Table includes sugars found naturally in foods like in fruit and milk, plus added sugars such as white sugar, honey and syrups. The Canadian Diabetes Association recommends that added sugars and sweetened foods be used in moderation. Look at the ingredient list to see if a food has added sugars. More information below.

Fat: Compare the % Daily Value (%DV) of fat between similar products. A product with less than 5% DV is a lower fat choice. Look for products with little saturated fat and no trans fat. Don't forget about calories and sodium in your food choices. Read Decoding the Nutrition Label to find out more about calories and sodium on the label.  Work with a Registered Dietitian to find out the amount of carbohydrates, sugar, fibre and fat that will help you manage your diabetes. 

The ingredient list 

Ingredients are listed in order of weight. If sugar, fat or sodium is listed in the first few ingredients, the product may not be the healthiest choice. Use the chart below to learn about words that mean sugar, fat or sodium in an ingredient list.

Nutrient Words to watch for on the ingredient list
Sugars Glucose, fructose, sucrose, maltose, lactose, galactose or dextrose Cane juice or evaporated cane juice Syrups and honey: agave, liquid invert sugar, maple syrup, corn syrup, molasses, barley malt syrup, brown rice syrup, palm syrup
Saturated fat Butter Coconut or coconut oil Lard, shortening, suet, chicken fat, bacon fat, tallow or beef fat Cocoa butter Palm or palm kernel oil Powdered whole milk solids
Trans fat Hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated fats and oils Margarine and shortening made with hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated fats or oils
Sodium Salt: Sea salt, kosher salt etc Additives and preservatives with the word “sodium” such as: disodium phosphate, sodium bisulfate, sodium benzoate, sodium hydroxide, sodium propionate, etc. Monosodium glutamate (MSG) Baking powder, baking soda, sodium bicarbonate Garlic salt, onion salt, celery salt Soy sauce, fish sauce

Health claims and nutrient content claims 

Health claims and nutrient content claims are two tools found on pre-packaged foods that can help you make healthier food choices. Read about health and nutrient content claims you may find on some foods.

Nutrient content claims you may be interested in 

If you have diabetes, you may be interested in nutrient content claims about sugars, fat and fibre. This table explains what these nutrient content claims mean: 

Nutrient content claim What it means
Sugar free The food must have less than 0.5 g of sugar per serving
Reduced in sugar/ Lower in sugar The food must have at least 25% less sugar compared to a similar product
No added sugar The food must not have any added sugar Note: Natural sugars may be present in the food
High source of fibre The food must have at least 4 grams of fibre per serving
Source of fibre The food must have at least 2 grams of fibre per serving
Fat-free The food must have less than 0.5 grams of fat per serving
Reduced in fat/ Lower in fat The food must have at least 25% less fat compared to a similar product

To get the whole story about a food, always read the Nutrition Facts table, not just the nutrient content claims. Here’s why:

  • A food package with the claim “no sugar added” is not necessarily sugar free. For example, many juice containers say, “no sugar added” but still contain lots of natural sugar from fruit.
  • Some “sugar-free” foods may contain other ingredients that are still a source of carbohydrate that must be counted in the diet plan. Or, they may be high in fat, sodium and calories.
  • Some foods may be labelled “light,” but this is NOT a nutrient content claim. It can mean lower in calories or fat – but it can also mean light in colour.  

Bottom line 

Reading Nutrition Labels can teach you about how the foods you buy may affect your blood glucose levels. Registered Dietitians can help with label reading. 

You may also be interested in

Nutrition labelling videos
Health Canada’s Interactive Nutrition Label Quiz

Last Update – October 13, 2020

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