Advancement in technology has made it possible to have access to food that can cater to innumerable preferences, tastes, and health requirements of an individual.
In the supermarkets, there is an entire section dedicated to diet/health foods and we often see people with diabetes at the aisles trying to look for healthier options which have words like ‘sugar-free’, ‘diet’, ‘baked not fried’ and even ‘diabetes friendly’.
With so many options available in the market today, people are often left confused about which one of them is the best choice for one’s health. This is when food labels come to the rescue. Taking a deeper look at the food label and decoding the information like ingredients, nutrients in the food, their amounts can help the consumers make informed and wise choices when buying any product.
The food product to be labelled as a “diabetes friendly product” must be moderate in carbohydrate content with carbohydrates coming from complex carbohydrate sources and have good amount of protein, fibre, and heart friendly fats which helps reduce the glycaemic index and glycaemic load. It is recommended to choose a product low in saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, sodium, and simple sugars.
Reading a nutrition label on food packaging
Reading the food label is a skill which needs to be developed to make better food choices that contribute to a healthy diet.
Here is what one must look for when comparing food labels.
- Ingredient list:
To know the ingredients of the packaged food, look at the nutrition label. Ingredients are usually listed in the descending order. This means a food contains the largest amount of the first ingredient and the smallest amount of the last ingredient. It is recommended to choose products which contain whole cereal grains, pulses, monounsaturated fats like nuts and seeds, olives, rice bran oil, groundnut oil, olive oil over products which contain refined flours, sugar, hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils.
Always choose the whole grain option when it comes to atta, bread, cereals, biscuits, pasta, etc. Make sure that ‘whole grain’ is the first word in the ingredients list to ensure that you are making the right choice.
If the product is made from whole grain and /or pulses and contains a functional food such as fenu greek seeds (methi), flax seeds, guargum, cinnamon, then it becomes an ideal choice for people with diabetes and heart disease.
- Serving size:
It is important to pay attention to the serving size, especially the number of servings in the package and that needs to be compared with the amount individual eats out of the package. The size of the serving on the food package influences all the nutrient amounts listed on the top part of the label.
For example, if a package has 4 servings and one eats half the package, which is 2 servings, it means the individual has consumed double the calories, carbs, fats, proteins and other nutrients mentioned on the label (amount per serving)
- Carbohydrate content:
For individuals with diabetes, it is most important to be able to use the information given regarding carbohydrate on the label in the most appropriate manner.
Total carbohydrates mentioned on the label includes sugar(both natural and added), complex carbohydrates and fiber.A check must be kept on the amount of carbohydrates coming from sugar. This number must be as low as possible. Different brands and products can be compared and the ones with the lowest number of sugar grams per serving must be chosen.
To keep the sugar intake to the minimum, care must be taken that added sugars are not listed as one of the first few ingredients. Other names for added sugars include corn syrup, high-fructose corn syrup, fruit juice concentrate, maltose, dextrose, sucrose, jaggery, honey, and maple syrup.
Fiber being indigestible carbohydrate does not raise blood glucose. The presence of fiber reduces the glycaemic index, thereby slowing down the impact of the other carbohydrates in a meal.
Beware of food fraud
Sugar free products must be scrutinized carefully. “Sugar free” does not mean “carbohydrate free”, “calorie free” or “fat free”.
It is important to note that fat free products will still have carbohydrates. A particular product may be labelled as “fat free” but it may be very high in sugar content, thereby increasing its total carbohydrate content and impacting the blood glucose levels. Therefore, careful analysis of the food label is important to ensure that you are making a healthier choice.
Research suggests that good use of nutrition labels is related to better nutrition knowledge and is linked to better health outcomes. Overall, nutrition labeling empowers people with diabetes make more healthful food choices which helps in maintaining better glucose control.
Excerpts from “Diet in Diabetes Simplified- Your Personal Diabetes Nutrition Coach” authored by Ms. Sheryl Salis