Managing diabetes: Eating right is the key

To effectively manage one’s diabetic condition, it’s important to eat right and monitor daily calorie intake. With increased use of packaged foods, it is vital to understand the nutritional value of food. One must take an informed decision of the purchase, by reading food labels on any processed food package.

As a thumb rule, choose foods with less calories, saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, sugar and sodium, along with higher percentage of fiber.

Key points to check on Food Labels

Serving Size: Generally, nutritional value is given per 100 gms of the packaged food, whereas the total quantity in the package is higher. Calculate values by considering the quantity you plan on eating.

Energy: Fats, protein and carbohydrates all provide the body with the energy or kilojoules needed to function and help you go about your daily activities. Lower energy usually means lower fat or sugar, which means that the food is a better choice.

Calories measures energy, so this number tells you how much energy you get from the package.

Total Fats include good fats like mono and polyunsaturated fats, along with bad fats like saturated and trans fats. Focus on foods with the least saturated fat and no trans-fat.

Total carbohydrate includes all types of carbohydrate – sugar, complex carbohydrate and fiber. As all of them affect blood glucose, remember to use total grams to count carbs rather than just sugar.

Fiber: Make sure that any grain is whole grain, such as whole-wheat flour and not refined flour.

Ingredients are listed in order from largest to smallest amount, by weight. This means a food is made up of the heaviest amount of the first ingredient and the least amount of the last ingredient.

Double-checking nutrition and health claims
  • Sugar Free means that it has less than 0.5g per serving.
  • No Sugar Added products have no sugar added during processing or packing but has products that already contain natural sugar such as dried fruit and juice.
  • Sodium Free implies that sodium is less than 5mg per serving.
  • Low Sodium means the product is 140mg or less per serving.
  • Reduced fat or salt products have at least 25% less fat or salt than the original product. It doesn’t mean it has less fat or less salt than a similar product.
  • Fat free products have less than 0.15% fat.
  • Lite or light might just mean the food is light in color, flavor or texture. Check the fat content.
  • Oven baked, not fried products might be sprayed or coated with fat before cooking.
  • Natural means manufacturer had a natural source (for eg, apples or rice) to work with.
  • Organic says very little about whether the product is healthy or not. Only certified organically grown products can be guaranteed to be organic.
  • Made with whole grain: Check ingredients list and see where the whole grain is placed. If it is not in first 3 ingredients, then its negligible.
  • Gluten-free implies that product doesn’t contain wheat, spelt, rye or barley. Many foods are gluten-free, but can be highly processed and loaded with unhealthy fats & sugar.

Additionally, do check the shelf life on the food labels to check if they are fit for consumption.

  • Use by is for perishable foods like meat, fish and dairy. Post this, food must not be consumed.
  • Best before tells date when the food will still be safe but might not be of best quality anymore.
  • Baked on or packed on is date the food was manufactured or packed. This tells how fresh it is.

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