Food Labelling

Food labels can be misleading so being able to understand them is crucial
Food labels can be misleading so being able to understand them is crucial

It's easy to become confused between Diabetic Foods, Traffic Light Food Labels and GDA.

Therefore, it is a good idea to find out more about food labels.

Understanding the information provided on food labels can allow people with diabetes a better chance of achieving a healthy diet and control of their blood glucose levels.

In the past, food labelling has been the cause of considerable disagreement in the UK, with many arguing for a clearer method of labelling the nutritional  value of food.

The current major labelling systems used include the traffic light system and guideline daily amounts (also known as recommended daily allowance).

It’s not all about the label

Although it is a good idea for people with diabetes to learn about food labels, it isn’t all about the label. Healthy eating logos such as low-fat and zero-carb need to be considered in the wide context of the diabetes diet.

Foods lower in fat, sugar or salt may be unhealthy in other ways, and this type of food labelling should always be investigated closely.

The NHS currently (2012) advises people with diabetes to eat a balanced diet over focusing entirely on low-fat, low-sugar foods.

Low or reduced?

‘low’ foods generally contain less of a nutrient than ‘reduced’ foods.

Generally, ‘diet’, ‘light’, ‘low’ and ‘reduced’ foods are healthier than normal foods.

However, it is worth treating this with healthy suspicion and focusing on the nutritional value of foods. For instance, low-fat crisps may contain higher than expected levels of salt and carbohydrates.

Food Labelling 1: Traffic Light Food Labels

This recent type of food labelling allows the consumer to easily see how healthy a product is, thereby allowing one to compare differences between brands. Traffic light colouring show Red, Amber, and Green to illustrate values of energy, fat, saturated fat, sugar and salt in 100g of a particular food.

  • Usually, red lights mean that a product has a high amount of a particular nutrient. Red lights, like in real life, are intended as a warning.
  • Amber lights mean that a product contains a medium amount, therefore attention needs to be paid.
  • Green lights mean that the food is low in a particular nutrient. The overall balance of each food needs to be considered.

Food Labelling 2: Guideline Daily Amounts

Guideline daily amounts are offered on a number of food labels, and provide a guide to the levels that should be eaten by an average adult.

Food labels of this type are divided into energy, fat, carbohydrates, sodium or salt and sometimes additional information.

  • Energy - Energy is measured in Kcals in both food and drink. Calories must be balanced with the amount of energy that you burn. If your calories exceed the energy you use, you will gain weight. The goal of most people with type 2 diabetes is to lose weight, so it is important to take in less calories than the ones you use.
  • Fat - Two key types of fat constitute that on food labels. These are saturated fats and unsaturated fats (also called polyunsaturated and monosaturated.) Reducing total fat intake, especially saturated fat, will result in weight loss. Monounsaturated fat is better for the heart.
  • Carbohydrates - Carbohydrates (of which sugars) is an important key to how much sugar (both added and natural) is in a product. All carbohydrates increase blood glucose levels and low-carbohydrate diets for diabetes advocated eating very few of them.
  • Sodium or Salt - Refers to sodium chloride content. The sodium in salt is bad for your health, and can cause high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke, all of which people with diabetes are at a greater risk of. To convert salt to sodium, divide by 2.5, to convert sodium to salt, multiply by 2.5.

Diabetic Food

Some companies sell food that is marketed as ‘specially for diabetics’ or ‘suitable for diabetics.’ Although some of this is useful as part of a healthy diet, there has been much bad press regarding this type of special claim. The NHS and DUK advise a healthy, balanced diet that doesn’t focus on special diabetic foods.

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