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Nutrition Label Reading Tips for People with Diabetes
By Susan Zikos, RD, LDN, CDE

How much will my morning cereal raise my blood sugar level? Is it better to have spaghetti or bread for my meal? These are all questions that diabetics ask. Answering these questions is easier since the Nutrition Facts Labels came into use. Each box, can and wrapper has a Nutrition Facts Box which tells a great deal about the food and its nutritional value. A few sections are of particular interest to diabetics.

Always start by looking at the Serving Size. This tells you what the suggested serving size is. It is best to use measuring cups to actually measure that serving a few times until you know what a serving looks like. Cereal, for instance, is usually ¾ cup or 1 cup per serving. Some bowls easily hold 2 or 3 servings, so you can get 2 or 3 times more calories than the manufacturer intended if you fill the bowl.

Next, look at the Total Carbohydrates in grams. Carbohydrates are converted into glucose during digestion. This is what raises your blood sugar levels. Fifteen grams of carbohydrate is considered one carbohydrate serving, roughly equal to one slice of bread. So if the cereal has 32 grams of carbohydrate in a 1 cup serving, that means it is 2 carbohydrate servings. If you add 8 ounces of fat free or low fat milk, that adds a third serving of carbohydrate to your meal. This may be all the carbohydrate that a smaller person needs for breakfast.

The biggest sources of blood sugar raising carbohydrate are breads and cereals, pastas and starchy vegetables, milk and dairy products and fruits. You need these foods for optimal nutrition, but you don't want to overeat them and raise blood sugar levels too high.

If you want to lose weight, also pay attention to the calories. A food that is low in carbohydrates can still have a lot of calories. Think of peanut butter. Two tablespoons only has 8 grams of carbohydrate, but still has a whopping 190 calories! That is because peanut butter also has 16 grams of fat which have 130 calories.

Your health is your responsibility. Eat sensibly and watch those portion sizes!

Susan Zikos, RD, LDN, CDE, is an Outpatient Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator at Ohio Valley Hospital in McKees Rocks, PA. For more information, log on to www.ohiovalleyhospital.org.

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