Diet is a significant component to managing and preventing diabetes, especially so if you have prediabetes.
People almost always develop prediabetes before getting type 2 diabetes. You can take steps to stop its progression to type 2 diabetes by choosing to eat well and making significant lifestyle changes.
Knowing how to read food labels is a very useful skill to improve your eating and better manage or help to prevent the progression of diabetes.
There are three main things on the food labels to look out for: nutrition information panel, ingredient list, and Healthier Choice Symbols.
1. Nutrition information panel (NIP)
This table shows you information on nutrition content in packaged food and drinks. You can then make an informed choice whether you should put it back on the supermarket shelves or place it in your shopping trolley (literally or virtually). And if you do, how much of it to have as part of a healthy, diabetes-friendly diet.
Below is an example of a NIP.
Under the Per Serving column are the number of nutrients you will get in a single serving of the food or drinks recommended by the manufacturer.
Using the above example, this means for every 5 pieces (equivalent to 47 g) of dried apricots you eat, you will have consumed 106 kcal, 1.2 g of protein, 0 g fat, 26 g of carbohydrates (an umbrella term for sugars), 3.5 g of dietary fibre, and 12 mg of sodium. And if you have 10 pieces, then it’s double the amount of nutrients listed.
The Per 100g column tells you how much nutrients you will get in 100g of dried apricots (the product). Use the numbers on this column for easier comparison of nutrition information across different products.
What to look out for if you have diabetes or prediabetes?
For people with diabetes or prediabetes, total carbohydrates, dietary fibre and calories are key nutrients to look out for. Choose products with higher fibre, lower sugar and sodium contents (more on this later). Avoid salted snacks and processed foods.
Portion size of food and drinks is another important factor when managing blood sugars. Watch out for the number of servings in the package.
People with diabetes and prediabetes should be particularly aware of serving sizes for carbohydrates and sugars consumed to help their body process the carbohydrates.
Some suggested serving size can be smaller than what people typically have under normal circumstances, so pay attention to the serving size and number of servings in that package, and compare it to how much you’re actually eating. Does the amount of food reflect the quantity you would usually have? This is because the serving size is not standardised but determined by the manufacturer, and can vary across even similar products.
Breaking down the nutritional terms
Total carbohydrates include carbohydrates from sugar, dietary fibre and starch.
Note that if the product claims that it’s “sugar-free” or “no sugar added”, it doesn’t mean it is carbohydrates-free.
High fibre will help to slow down your digestion and release of blood sugar. So choose high-fibre foods such as wholegrains where possible.
Did you know? A product that claims “reduced fat” may not be low in fat. It only has to contain 25% less fat than the original product.
“Fat-free” does not mean low calories either as these foods may be compensated by high amounts of sugar to make them taste better.
If you have high blood pressure, look for foods that are low in sodium. And to lower your risk of stroke and heart disease, choose foods that have higher monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, and low in saturated and trans fats.
2. Ingredients list
To know for sure what your packaged food and drinks contain, have a look at the ingredients list.
All products should list all the ingredients in it, which is in decreasing order by weight, from the largest to smallest amount used to make the product.
You should choose products with ingredients that you recognise most as natural ingredients, and with the shortest list of ingredients as possible.
Many products claim to be healthy, natural, diabetes-friendly or low in sugar by replacing normal sugars with artificial sweeteners. They include sucralose, acesulfame potassium, aspartame, to name a few.
Pro tip: Don’t just believe the claims, read the ingredients list!
By knowing what’s in your ingredients list, you can know for sure if those products marketed as healthy and natural are the real deal, or not. You’ll be surprised that products with such claims are full of sugars, and almost no other nutrients.
Be aware of hidden sugars, disguised as multiple ingredients such as those in the image below.
3. Healthier Choice Symbols
Choose products that have these triangular symbols whenever possible, focusing especially on higher wholegrains, lower sugar claims. These are regulated and awarded by Health Promotion Board to manufacturers whose products meet certain requirements.
The bottom line is, the Healthier Choice Symbol helps you to pick healthier products at a glance. There’s a reason why it’s not called the “Healthy Choice Symbol”.
The risk of diabetes increases with weight gain. If you are overweight, lose excess weight with sustainable lifestyle changes. Keep within the daily calorie limit by choosing lower-calorie options whenever possible.
It can be overwhelming to sieve out credible information and distinguish them among the good-will advice from family and friends. Get professional help from the nutrition experts at MyDoc to help you navigate your way to better health and quality of life. Find us here.