How to Read Food Labels: Type 1 Diabetes

For people with type 1 diabetes, reading and understanding food labels is very important. Managing the condition depends on balancing blood sugar levels, insulin levels, and carbohydrate intake, and food is a key factor in achieving this balance. 

By understanding food labels, people with diabetes can take charge of their diet and make healthier choices in line with their dietary requirements.

Why Is It Important to Read Food Labels?

Maintaining constant and in-range blood glucose levels is a main objective of managing diabetes. A nutritious, well-balanced diet can help reduce the risk of both hyperglycemia and hypoglycemia by controlling the amount of glucose that is absorbed into the body. 

Carbohydrates are converted into glucose during digestion, so they have the highest impact on blood glucose levels. Because people with T1D have to match their insulin dosages with the amount of carbohydrates they consume, reading food labels and understanding portions is very important to ensure adequate BGL control.

Gluroo helps you keep track of carbohydrates by giving you an intuitive and easy method for logging. You can simply type “30g oatmeal” into the chat, and Gluroo will record 30g of carbohydrates in your (or your child’s) system. This helps inform Gluroo’s predictive model, which can then send you alerts and reminders if it looks like your BGL is headed out of range. You can give Gluroo a try today, for free, on both iOS and Android.

Install Gluroo from Apple App Store
Install Gluroo from Google Play Store

How To Read a Food Label

Making informed and health-conscious eating decisions requires reading food labels. Let’s use a hypothetical box of oatmeal as an illustration to show the elements on a food label, how to interpret the values, and how to put together a healthy, diabetes-friendly diet:

Hypothetical Packaged Oatmeal Food Label:

  • Serving Size: 1 cup (40g)
  • Total Carbohydrates: 30g
  • Dietary Fiber: 5g
  • Sugars: 1g
  • Protein: 4g
  • Total Fat: 2g
  • Saturated Fat: 0.5g
  • Cholesterol: 0mg
  • Sodium: 80mg
  • Calories per Serving: 150

Now let’s get into each category.

1. Serving Size

The serving size is the recommended portion size for a specific food. It’s crucial to compare the serving size on the label to the portion you intend to eat because it directly affects nutritional intake. Note that due to differences in appetite, dietary needs, meal preparation adjustments, health goals, and overall eating habits, your serving size can differ from those on the label. 

Each serving of this oatmeal is one cup, or 40 grams. It will be easier to precisely count carbohydrates and regulate insulin if you accurately measure your oatmeal serving to match the serving size specified on the label.

2. Total Carbohydrate

This term refers to the total amount of carbs in a serving, including all sugars, starches, fiber, and carbohydrate types. As carbs have a substantial impact on blood sugar levels in people with T1D, total carbohydrates is one of the most crucial factors to take into account when calculating insulin dosage and counting carbohydrates. 

This oatmeal contains 30 grams of total carbs per serving. Considering your particular requirements and blood sugar goals, you can include the desired quantity in your daily carbohydrate intake.

3. Dietary Fiber

Fiber is a form of carbohydrate that the body is unable to completely digest. It promotes better digestion and doesn’t elevate blood sugar levels. Eating meals high in fiber generally has a stabilizing effect on blood glucose levels.

Each serving of this oatmeal has 5 grams of dietary fiber, which is a healthy choice for improving digestion and balancing blood sugar levels.

4. Sugars

The sugars value shows how much sugar there is in total in a portion of the meal. Both naturally occurring sugars (found in fruits and dairy products) and added sugars are included in this. To prevent high blood sugar rises, additional sugar should be kept to a minimum.

One serving of this oatmeal has 1 gram of sugar, which makes it a viable choice for those who have diabetes.

5. Protein

Maintaining muscle mass and general health require adequate protein intake. Including protein in meals can slow down carbohydrate absorption and offer vital nutrients, even if it has no direct impact on blood sugar levels. 

Each serving of this oatmeal has 4 grams of protein, making it a healthy choice for diabetics.

6. Total Fat

The total quantity of fat in a portion of food is referred to as total fat. Although fat does not cause blood sugar levels to rise, it can impact how sensitive the body is to insulin. Choose monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats over other types of fat for better health. Fat can also have a delaying effect, where a meal with a lot of fat will slow digestion, making insulin uptake more difficult.

One serving of this oatmeal has 2 grams of total fat, which can help to balance the meal and provide sustained energy.

7. Saturated Fat

Saturated fat has the potential to raise cholesterol levels and raise the risk of heart disease. For heart health, limiting foods high in saturated fat is a good idea. 

Per serving, this oatmeal has an insignificant 0.5 grams of saturated fat. 

8. Cholesterol

Monitoring cholesterol consumption is crucial for maintaining overall heart health even if it has no direct impact on blood sugar. This oatmeal is free of cholesterol.

9. Sodium

The mineral sodium has an impact on blood pressure. Although sodium has no effect on blood sugar, people with diabetes should watch how much of it they consume.  

Each portion of this oatmeal contains 80 mg of salt.

10. Calories

The amount of calories in each serving shows how much energy is contained in that amount of food. While it’s important for managing weight and overall health, controlling blood sugar is not directly impacted by calorie consumption.

This oatmeal has 150 calories overall per serving. You can consume the calories in accordance with your needs and recommendations.

What to Avoid on the Label

Some ingredients and words on food labels that may have an impact on a person’s blood sugar levels and general health should be avoided by those who have diabetes. 

The following ingredients or terms should generally be reduced or limited by diabetics:

  • Added Sugars: It’s crucial to keep an eye out for components like sucrose, high fructose corn syrup, and dextrose in the ingredients list because added sugars can quickly boost blood sugar levels.
  • Refined Carbohydrates: Refined carbohydrates, such as white flour and refined sugar, have a high glycemic index and can quickly elevate blood sugar levels.
  • Trans Fats: By lowering good cholesterol and raising levels of bad cholesterol, trans fats increase the risk of heart disease. Keep partly hydrogenated oils out of your recipe.
  • Sodium: Since diabetics are more prone to cardiovascular issues, consuming too much sodium may cause blood pressure to rise. Pay attention to the amount of salt in packaged goods.

In addition to these ingredients, there are additional terms for diabetics to approach with caution, such as:

  • Fat-Free: Foods that are fat-free may make up for their lack of flavor with a higher sugar content, which could cause blood sugar levels to surge.
  • Low-Carb: Low-carb goods may contain sugar alcohols or other replacements, which in some cases have the potential to impact blood sugar levels.

What to Look for on the Label

On the other hand, diabetics can maintain stable blood sugar levels and overall health by selecting foods that contain the terms and ingredients listed below:

  • Whole Grains: Foods high in fiber, such as whole wheat, brown rice, quinoa, and oats, assist to regulate blood sugar levels and promote digestive health. 
  • Healthy Fats: Terms like “polyunsaturated fats” and “monounsaturated fats” are favored because they can enhance insulin sensitivity and promote heart health.
  • Fiber Rich: Fruits, vegetables, and whole grains are foods rich in fiber that help slow down the absorption of sugar and prevent sharp blood sugar rises.
  • Low Glycemic Index: These foods release sugar into the bloodstream more gradually, helping to maintain stable blood sugar levels.
  • Sugar Substitute: Natural sugar replacements can provide sweetness without raising blood sugar levels, such as stevia or monk fruit.
  • No Added Sugars: Added sugars might cause blood sugar swings. Opt for foods with no added sugars for better blood sugar control.
  • Sugar Alcohol: Erythritol and xylitol are two sugar alcohols that have no effect on blood sugar levels and can be used as sugar substitutes by diabetics.
  • Certifications: Labels with designations like “heart-healthy” or “diabetes-friendly” might assist people in making educated decisions about the best food options.

Reading product labels gives people with type 1 diabetes the power to control their diet and make sure they get the essential nutrients in the proper amounts because eating sensibly and sticking to diabetes-friendly options can help improve blood sugar management, and enhance overall wellbeing.

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