How To Read Food Labels For Type 2 Diabetes


Food labels can be hard to understand.

Do you want to know how to read food labels for Type 2 diabetes? Great question! Food labels are complicated.

Are we looking for fats? Sugars? Sodium? What are we supposed to look for with Type 2 diabetes?

Are you diagnosed with Prediabetes? Do you suspect you have Type 2 diabetes?  Reading food labels is very important. Blood sugar spikes can cause damage to your body. You would like to skip out on heart, kidney, eye, and blood vessel damage, right? The right diet is like insurance against disease.

Tip: Many of the claims on the packaging lie. Why would I say that? It’s good marketing for those who don’t know how to read labels or ingredients. It says it’s healthy, it must be healthy! Wrong!

How to read food labels for Type 2 diabetes?

Look for some of the following things on food labels. You may be surprised. 

“Sugar-free” it’s true that the product may not contain sugar. The artificial sweetener they use may skyrocket your blood sugar. We need to avoid this.

“Low fat” products can be surprisingly high in fat. Low fat compared to what? The original super high-fat product? They should call it less fat than the original. It’s still not a low-fat or healthy food. It may be better than the original product or worse. It can also be high in sugar or other things you are trying to avoid.

“Light” Compare the label on the light product to its “heavy” counterpart. I bet you found little difference. It may have more unhealthy ingredients than the original. In this case, trading a few calories for extra unhealthy ingredients makes no sense. Neither the light nor the original product is good for you.

“Low cholesterol” I once saw a low cholesterol sticker on an avocado. It’s true avocados are low in cholesterol. It also tells me that they don’t think we’re very smart about food labels. They know what sells.

“All-natural” This label has no meaning at all. Did it come from the Earth? It’s all-natural.

What About Calories?

It’s never a good idea to go wild with calories. This is a great way to gain weight and get Type 2 diabetes. Keep an eye on daily calories and stay in the recommended range.

Calories are units of energy. These units allow us to be active. How many calories should you eat per day? It depends on physical activity levels, age, and gender, according to the US Department of Health1.

Adult males generally need 2000-3000 calories per day. This is to keep up their weight and activity.

Adult females generally need 1600-2400 calories per day. Pregnancy increases this caloric need.

Some Fats are Good!

Healthy fats can help prevent and reverse Type 2 diabetes2. The fat listed on the food label includes all fats. This includes healthy and unhealthy fats. You need to look at where these fats come from.

Good fats aka unsaturated fats decrease your risk of disease. These fats are often listed as Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats.

Some healthy fats: Avocado, seeds, nuts, coconut, eggs, and fish.

Bad fats are saturated and trans fats.

Unhealthy fats: Cream, shortening, butter, processed oils, and margarine.

Unfortunately, the label won’t tell the good from the bad. You’ll have to read the ingredients. This way you can see if the fats are healthy or not.

Cholesterol – how do I know if what is listed on food labels has any meaning for Type 2 Diabetes?

The percentage on the package is based on a 2000-calorie-per-day diet.  It’s recommended to keep your daily intake below 300mg per day. Again it’s very important to read the label. Ask yourself where does this cholesterol come from?

Health sources of cholesterol: Steak (grass-fed), shellfish, eggs, organ meats, and many fish.

Unhealthy sources of cholesterol: Fast foods. fried foods, processed meats, and desserts.

Sodium on food labels

There are certain health conditions where you will want to watch your sodium intake. Hypertension is high blood pressure. It’s one condition that can get worse with high sodium intake. We know that Hypertension goes hand in hand with Type 2 diabetes.

The American Dietary Association (ADA) recommends that we limit daily sodium to 23003 mg per day or less. That’s about 1 teaspoon of salt! With all the hidden salt in processed foods, it’s easy to go over that limit. Avoid processed foods as much as possible.

Rinsing your canned foods and vegetables can help. Look at the sodium content of your condiments. They can have a lot of salt. Using these condiments is an easy way to go over your salt limit for the day.

How do I know what the total carbohydrate is on food labels? 

Carbohydrates are starches, sugars, and fibers found in foods. They give us energy. People with Type 2 diabetes have high blood sugar. We need to limit or even cut out all sugars. We also need to limit carbs. High blood sugar is the cause of damage to our organs.

Cutting out carbs and sugars will also lead to weight loss. Losing even a little weight helps our body with insulin resistance.

We generally have an idea of how to look for sugars in foods. What we don’t always realize is that grains, potatoes, fried foods, sodas, and candy are so dangerous. They can have more carbs than we can process.

Read the line on the label that says “carbohydrates.” Watch that it is not too high.

How do I Find the Hidden Sugar on Food Labels? 

If you suspect you have Type 2 diabetes you know that you must cut out sugars. They are tempting and sweet. Ask your doctor about getting a Continuous Glucose Monitor (CGM.) A CGM will show you how high your blood sugar spikes when you consume sugar. You’ll also want to watch how high it stays over time. Avoid sugar! It has zero health benefits and will cause damage. It’s like poison for us.

When I first got my CGM I was able to see which foods were skyrocketing my blood sugar. I realized I had to make the recommended diet and lifestyle changes. Over time I was able to see that even when my blood sugar went up it would come back down. I knew I was getting healthier.

The encouragement from seeing my progress in real-time with my CGM helped me stay on track. I’m sure it could do the same for you.

The best food choices are foods that you cook.

Fresh vegetables, grass-fed meats, organ meats, and leafy greens. We even need to be aware of which fruits can impact our blood sugar. 

When I first started making healthy diet choices almost all the fruits would impact my blood sugar. After some time, I found this wasn’t the case. It is limiting at first but, as you get healthier, you can eat many more healthy foods. It gets better.

With Type 2 diabetes it takes time for your body to filter out the high blood sugars. This is why we shouldn’t snack between meals. Snacking keeps your body busy with new sugar to deal with. It prevents your body from catching up on the backlog of sugars already present.

If you must snack, sometimes we must, click here to read about the best snacks for Type 2 Diabetes. 

Now you know how to read food labels for Type 2 Diabetes! Reading food labels is important. It takes some time to learn what the ingredients mean. I promise it gets easier over time.

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