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Read the fine print: nutritional labels and diabetes diet habits

Today--quite simply--there are too many items on the shelves at the supermarket. How do you know what foods are good for you? How can you tell if this product is better for your diabetes than that product? How do you select the healthy foods that can make managing your diabetes easier?

Read the nutritional labels.

However, you don't want to wander aimlessly through the aisles at the local grocery store reading label after label. Here are some strategies for reading product labels and making sense of nutritional information.

Healthy eating begins on the label

While you may be tempted to grab the familiar foods that have graced your pantry and refrigerator for years, it may be time to consider what you are actually eating. Why? Because those very products may not be as healthy as you once thought. Here are five tips to consider when reading nutritional labels that can lead to healthy eating habits, as well as help keep your diabetes in check.

  • Look closely. If the ingredient list reads like alphabet soup, then that product is probably an unhealthy processed choice. According to the Food and Drug Administration, ingredients are listed in the order of weight, which means the product contains more the first product than the following items. If the first ingredient is a type of sugar or processed flour, you may want to choose another product. If you can't pronounce an ingredient, it probably means it is an unhealthy additive.
  • Understand serving sizes. The serving size listed on a product can both be misleading and unrealistic. For example, you may consider a bowl of cereal as a traditional serving. However, the nutritional label for the cereal may list ½ cup as a serving size. In turn, the calories you consume directly relate to the serving size. If there are 180 calories in ½ cup of cereal, you may want to consider another brand or reduce your serving sizes.
  • Don't be afraid to count. When reading nutritional labels, remember to count carbohydrates and fiber. Managing your diabetes requires a healthy diet, one that is low in carbohydrates and high in fiber. Surprisingly, most Americans only consume 14 grams of dietary fiber each day.
  • Watch the fat. Generally speaking, your diet should be low in saturated fats. Avoid trans fats or "partially-hydrogenated" fats at all costs. Most of today's products list the total fat with subheadings for saturated and trans fats. You can figure out the unsaturated fat by subtracting the total of the saturated and trans fat from the total fat of the product.
  • Sugar is complicated. Sugars listed on a nutritional label are usually not completely reliable--because they usually include natural and artificial sugars. Again, pay attention to the ingredient list.

By selecting healthier options, you can take steps towards avoiding swings in your glucose levels. Don't be afraid to compare brands and when you are shopping for packaged or processed foods, read the label. As a general rule of thumb, look for products with limited ingredients that are easily pronounceable--by doing so, you can make an informed decision about the type of foods you are including in your diet.

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