Diabetic Living: How To Read Labels Rightly

How to read labels rightly when shopping for groceries

A very important part of planning meals as a diabetic is going to the grocery store and buying the ingredients you have planned to eat. You may think “ I have been doing the family food shopping for a long time. I know everything about the store and there is nothing you can tell me about how to shop”.

You might be right, but have you ever turned the package over and read a food label? Or maybe you have, had you ever gone beyond the calorie count?

A lot of people don’t, but now that you have diabetes it’s a great idea to learn how.

The Food and Drug Administration redesigned and standardized the label so that each manufacturer of prepared food must follow the same format (1).

Each label must show how much total carbohydrate (including dietary fiber and sugar), cholesterol, sodium, and fat a product contains. It must also list the amount of minerals, proteins, saturated fat, vitamin A and C as well as the total calories and calories from fat.

Elements of a Food Label

Now let’s go through the major elements of a food label;

1) Content versus percent of the daily value

The top part of the label consists of lists of the nutrients as a percentage of what an average person requires based on a two thousand calorie diet.

The bottom part of the label lists the actual amount of a nutrient in that particular package.

As a guide for diabetics, the top is a general guide while the bottom is an essential part of your food plan (2).

2) Serving size

You may have wondered sometimes what these manufacturers must be thinking; as if they package their products for a flock of birds because the serving size is always too small.

You might, when you take a look at the number of calories in a serving size that looks only a thimbleful in your dish. You might also think it’s not worth your time to spend that many calories on such a little bit of prepared food.

You might as well realize that it is too difficult for you to eat only a half cup, and might be tempted to finish the entire container.

Whatever the kind of eating habit or food preferences you have got, ensure you note the serving size and have a good idea of what half a cup looks like on a plate, or if possible you should measure it.

The amount of nutrients listed on the label refers to each serving and not the entire container (3).

3) Total Carbohydrate

You should focus your attention on this. Note that this is the total amount of carbohydrates you consume, rather than the individual type of sugar and starch that affects your blood sugar.

4) Types of Fat

You should choose foods that have the lowest percentage and total amount of saturated fat (4).

5) Ingredients

The ingredient of the food contained in the package is itemized in descending order by weight. The first 4 or 5 items are often the major ingredients followed by flavors and chemicals used as preservatives.

It is therefore important when buying prepared foods you should match them to your meal plan.

As you get into the habit of checking labels, you will find some terms that you haven’t heard of before or perhaps don’t know their meaning.

A lot of items found on supermarket shelves have the word ‘natural’ or ‘healthy’ the majority do not have a regulatory meaning.

Here are some terms on the label and their meaning;

6) Low Fat

It means no more than 3g of fat per serving for individual foods, and no more than 30% of calories from fat for a complete meal.

7) Low in saturated fat

This means no more than 1g of saturated fat per serving and no more than 15% of total calories for saturated fat.

8) Low Sodium

This means 140mg or less per serving

9) Fat-Free

This means less than 0.5g of fat per serving

10) Light

This is one–third fewer calories or 50% less fat per serving

11) Low cholesterol

It is no more than 20mg of cholesterol and 2mg or less of saturated fat per serving.

12) Cholesterol free

It is less than 2mg of cholesterol and 2g or less of saturated fat per serving.

13) Low Calorie

It means no more than 40 calories per serving.

14) Reduced / Less

This means it contains 25% or less of a nutrient than a comparable food.

15) Sugar-Free

It means less than 0.5g of sugar preserving.

16) Dietetic

This does not necessarily indicate the item is good for you. It simply means that something has been changed or replaced in food like salt, sugar, total fat, or cholesterol.

17) Natural

With reference to meat and poultry, it indicates that no chemical preservative or hormone has been added; for other kinds of foods, this has no regulatory meaning.


If you’re diabetic or just newly diagnosed it is very important to know what you are eating and how to integrate these ingredients into your meal plan.

Next time you go shopping for groceries, you should take a minute to go through the food package labels to know if that item will be good for your health.


  1. Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. (n.d.). Food Labeling & Nutrition. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Retrieved April 20, 2022, from https://www.fda.gov/food/food-labeling-nutrition
  2. Robinson, L. (2022, March 29). The diabetes diet. HelpGuide.org. Retrieved April 20, 2022, from https://www.helpguide.org/articles/diets/the-diabetes-diet.htm
  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2021, August 10). Carb counting. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved April 20, 2022, from https://www.cdc.gov/diabetes/managing/eat-well/diabetes-and-carbohydrates.html
  4. Read the nutrition facts label to choose … – NHLBI, NIH. (n.d.). Retrieved April 20, 2022, from https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/files/docs/resources/heart/filipino-health-manual/session-5/readlabel.pdf