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Are You Label-Able?

by Belinda O’Connell, MS, RD, CDE, and Laura Hieronymus, MSEd, APRN, BC-ADM, CDE

Most of the percent Daily Values on food labels are calculated for someone who needs 2,000 calories a day. (Exceptions are cholesterol, sodium, and vitamin and mineral values, which are the same for all healthy adults, no matter how many calories they eat.) Since you may have higher or lower calorie needs, the percent Daily Values on food labels may not be exactly correct for you. You can still use them to compare foods and to quickly determine the general nutritional quality of a food, but to find your personal nutrient values see “Personalizing the Percent Daily Value.”

Calories. The “Calorie” information tells you the number of calories in one standard serving of the food. (The standard serving size is listed on the label under Serving Size.) Remember, the number of calories in your serving of food will depend on the portion size you actually eat, which may or may not be the same as the standard serving size. To determine the number of calories in your serving of food, measure how much you are eating and compare this to the standard serving size from the food label. If your portion is larger than the standard serving from the food label, you will need to adjust the calories from the food label up to account for your larger portion. If your portion of food is smaller than that listed on the label, you will need to adjust the calories down to account for your smaller portion.

Fat and cholesterol. This section tells you the amount of total fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol provided by one standard serving of food. (Again, if your portion is larger or smaller, you will need to adjust these values accordingly.) On some products, polyunsaturated fat, trans fat, and monounsaturated fat are listed as well. The American Diabetes Association (ADA) recommends that people with diabetes limit their fat intake to less than 30% of calories from fat and less than 10% of calories from saturated fat. (Because trans fats have similar health effects to saturated fats, your combined intake of trans and saturated fats should be less than 10% of your daily calorie intake.)

For example, if your daily calorie needs are 2,000 calories, your daily fat intake should be under 65 grams per day (30% of calories from fat). To figure out how much fat and saturated fat is OK for you, see “Personalizing the Percent Daily Value.”

Sodium. This tells you the amount of sodium in one standard serving of a food. The ADA recommends that people with diabetes keep their daily total sodium intake under 2400 milligrams per day, and, conveniently, the percent Daily Value for sodium is based on 2400 milligrams per day, so it can help you see if a food is a high-sodium or low-sodium food and how easily it will fit into your diet. For example, 1/2 cup of regular chicken noodle soup may have up to 940 mg of sodium, which uses up 39% of your daily sodium intake. Reduced-sodium chicken noodle soup, however, may have only 450 mg of sodium, or 19% of your daily recommended maximum intake, so it is a healthier choice.

Carbohydrate. Understanding how to use carbohydrate information from food labels is particularly important for people with diabetes. The most important number for you to look at in this section is “Total Carbohydrate.” It is listed in bold letters and tells you the amount of carbohydrate, in grams, found in one standard serving of a food. If you count carbohydrates, “Total Carbohydrate” is the number you should use to calculate carbohydrate choices. This is because research shows that most forms of carbohydrate (including starches, processed sugars, sugar from fruit, and sugars in milk) increase blood glucose levels similarly when they are eaten in equal portions. (The exceptions are dietary fiber, “resistant” starches, and sugar alcohols, which have less of an effect on blood glucose than other carbohydrates.) For more on using food labels to determine carbohydrate choices, see “Calculating Carbohydrate Choices.”

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Also in this article:
for Sample Food Labels, Calculating Carbohydrate Choices, Personalizing the Percent Daily Value, Health Claims, and Label Terms



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Statements and opinions expressed on this Web site are those of the authors and not necessarily those of the publishers or advertisers. The information provided on this Web site should not be construed as medical instruction. Consult appropriate health-care professionals before taking action based on this information.



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