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Understanding Healthy Eating and Nutrition Labels

nutrition label-diabetes-diabetes diet-health and wellness
nutrition label-diabetes-diabetes diet-health and wellness

Healthy eating means eating a variety of foods with the nutrients that the body needs for overall health and wellness.

Viola Holmes, M.S., RD, CDCES,

Associate Director of Nutrition, American Diabetes Association

There is no diabetes diet, nor a one-size-fits-all approach to healthy eating for diabetes. Instead, it’s about creating an individualized eating pattern based on personal preferences and lifestyle that can be maintained long-term. The emphasis is to incorporate a wide variety of non-starchy vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and plant-based foods. These foods provide the vitamins, minerals, and fiber that the body needs for optimal health.

The Dietary Guidelines recommend at least five servings of vegetables and fruit a day, and this can be achieved by making sure that half your plate is vegetables and/or fruit at meals. The Diabetes Placemat is an excellent guide for planning a healthy, balanced plate. 

Another focus of healthy eating is to minimize the amounts of added sugar, sodium, saturated fat, and processed foods in the eating pattern. Examples of these items include sugar-sweetened beverages, processed meats, refined grains, and sweets. Consuming too much of these types of foods can make it challenging to manage diabetes and may increase the risk of developing complications.

Decoding nutrition labels

Nutrition fact labels help guide decisions as to what to eat and how much to eat. Pay attention to the serving size because all the information on the label is based on the serving amount indicated. Use labels to compare the nutrient content of different food options.

May is National Blood Pressure Education Month, making it a good time to focus attention on comparing the sodium content of different foods. For individuals with and without diabetes, guidelines recommend consuming less than 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day as part of a healthy eating pattern.

Additionally, read the ingredient list on labels to determine exactly what’s in the food. The first ingredient on the list represents what the manufacture used the most of in making the food. Look for products that list a whole grain like whole-wheat, rye, or brown rice first to ensure getting a source of whole grains.

The nutrition fact labels are key to successfully selecting foods that are higher in vitamins, minerals, and fiber; and lower in added sugar, sodium, and saturated fat to achieve healthy eating goals. See the article Understanding Food Labels for more details on label reading.     

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