Checking Food Labels

By: writers

The Nutrition Facts label (food label) is now on most packaged foods in the grocery store. Foods that are exempt from the label include foods in very small packages, foods prepared in the store, and foods made by small manufacturers. When using the nutrition facts label keep in mind the following points.

Serving Size

The nutrition information provided is for the serving size identified on the label. However, the serving on the food label may not be the same as the serving size in your food plan or the serving you normally eat.



A serving with 20 calories or less and less than 5 grams of carbohydrates is called a free food.

Total Fat

Look at the grams of total fat in a serving. A low fat food is defined as containing 3 grams of fat or less per serving.


Sodium does not affect blood glucose levels. However, many people consume much more sodium than needed on a daily basis. The recommended intake of sodium for healthy adults is less than 2300 mg per day. If you have high blood pressure, it be may be helpful to consume even less.

Total Carbohydrate

Look at the grams of total carbohydrate, rather than the indented grams of sugar. If you look only at the sugar number, you may end up excluding foods such as fruits and milks thinking they are too high in sugar, while you may overeat foods such as cereals that have no sugar, but do contain significant amounts of carbohydrate.

The grams of sugar and fiber are counted as part of the grams of total carbohydrate. If a food has 5 grams or more fiber in a serving, subtract the fiber grams from the total grams of carbohydrate for a more accurate estimate of the carbohydrate content.

Sugar alcohols (also known as polyols) include sorbitol, xylitol and mannitol, and have fewer calories than sugars and starches, although use of the sugar alcohols in a product does not necessarily mean the product is low in carbohydrate. Always remember to check the label for the grams of carbohydrate.

The grams of sugar alcohols are indented under the total carbohydrate heading and aligned under dietary fiber and sugars. The grams of sugar alcohols are required on the label only when a claim is made about sugar alcohols or sugars when sugar alcohols are present.

Percentage Daily Value

Indicates how much of a specific nutrient a serving of food contains compared to a 2000-calorie diet. A product is considered a good source of a particular nutrient if one serving provides 10 to 19 percent of the Daily Value, and is considered high in a given nutrient if it contains 20 percent or more of the Daily Value. If the Daily Value is 5 percent or less, it is low in that nutrient.


This means that the product has been nutritionally altered so that it now contains 25 percent less of a specific nutrient such as fat, calories, sugar or sodium.


This means that the product contains none or almost none of the specified nutrient. For example, sugar-free foods have less than 0.5 gram of sugars per serving. However, sugar-free does not mean carbohydrate free. Compare the total carbohydrate content of a sugar-free food with that of the standard product. If there is a big difference in carbohydrate content between the two foods, buy the sugar-free food. If there is little difference in the total grams of carbohydrate between the two foods, choose the one you want based on price and taste.

No sugar added foods do not have any form of sugar added during processing or packaging, and do not contain high-sugar ingredients. But remember, they may still be high in carbohydrate, so you have to check the label.

Fat-free foods are often higher in carbohydrate than the foods they replace, so they are not necessarily a better choice than the standard product.

A free food is one with less than 20 calories or 5 grams carbohydrate per serving. Examples include diet soft drinks, sugar-free gelatin dessert, sugar-free popsicles, sugarless gum, and sugar-free syrup.

Source: American Diabetes Association

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