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A simple guide to reading food labels with type 2 diabetes

With so many facts and figures on food packaging, it can be hard to understand which products are actually good for us. Food manufacturers are competing for our attention in the supermarket aisles, so they bombard us with claims designed to catch our eye.

‘Sugar-free’, ‘reduced fat’, ‘organic’, ‘locally sourced’, ‘new improved recipe’ – it’s often just noise designed to distract you from the real nutritional information on the back of the label. According to a 2021 survey by the International Food Information Council, two-thirds of respondents say they pay more attention to ingredients on food and beverages than they did five years ago. But who has the time to study every individual food product they buy?

This simple guide aims to help you understand what the numbers mean, which ones you should focus on, and how to manage your diet to maintain a happy, healthy life with type 2 diabetes.

At a glance...

When buying packaged foods, as a general rule, choose products with:
  • low total fat (especially saturated fat)
  • low sugar
  • low sodium
  • high fibre
  • lower kilojoules (especially when trying to lose weight)

‘Fat-free’ and ‘sugar-free’ DOESN’T mean carb-free


Some diabetic diets are based on balancing blood glucose by limiting carbohydrates. Therefore, it’s important to focus on ‘total carbohydrates’, which includes added sugars and fibre, not just sugar content.

Some foods, such as milk and fruit, are nutritious despite being naturally high in sugar, and can be included as part of a balanced diet. 

Look for healthy fats


Not all fats are created equal. Unhealthy fats like saturated and trans fats raise your cholesterol and increase your cardiovascular risk. In contrast, good fats like monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats help to protect your heart, even if they’re high in calories.

‘Reduced salt’ isn’t the same as low salt


For a food to earn a ‘reduced salt’ label, that means it has 25% less salt than the original version of that product. But that reduced level may still be relatively high. The same logic applies to items boasting ‘reduced fat’.

Be wary of serving sizes


Serving sizes on food labels are notoriously misleading and designed to make sugar, fat, and salt content look lower than it actually is. If you have a meal plan that specifies serving sizes, see how they compare to the servings listed on the food label so you can stay within your daily calorie and carbohydrate goals.

Consult a qualified nutritionist


Of course, a great way to minimise the guesswork in your shopping basket is to have a clear plan of what meals are more effective when managing your diabetes and which ingredients are safe to choose.

A nutritionist with experience in type 2 diabetes can help you co-create a balanced diet and meal plan that also factors in your personal tastes.

You can also check out the Novo Nordisk cookbook, packed with wholesome, delicious, and easy-to-make recipes suitable for people with type 2 diabetes.

Want to learn more about healthy nutrition and reducing your risk of heart disease? Ask your doctor about GLP-1.

References
  1. International Food Information Council (IFIC). Food & Health Survey 2021, May 2021. Available from: https://foodinsight.org/2021-food-health-survey/ Accessed on 5 october 2021.
  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Carb Counting [online] August 2021. Available from: https://www.cdc.gov/diabetes/managing/eat-well/diabetes-and-carbohydrates.html Accessed on 5 October 2021.
  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Food Labels [online] April 2021. Available from: https://www.cdc.gov/diabetes/managing/eat-well/food-labels.html Accessed on 5 October 2021.
  4. Mayo Clinic. Nutrition and healthy eating [online] April 2021. Available from: https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/fat/art-20045550 Accessed on 5 October 2021.
  5. World Health Organisation. Salt Reduction [online] April 2020. Available from: https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/salt-reduction Accessed on 5 October 2021. 

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