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How to read a food label

The FDA (Food and Drug Administration) requires that the packaging of every manufactured food display certain nutritional information on the label, including a list of ingredients in descending order of weight.

How to read a food label

The Nutrition Facts Panel is where you will find the amount of protein, carbohydrate and fat, amongst other things, contained in the product.

The nutrition panel

These things are measured by specific laboratory assays regulated by the FDA and they measure the quantity of fat, protein, ash and water (although water and ash are not required to be listed). The carbohydrate content is arrived at after the other substances have been removed - so whatever is not a protein, fat, ash or water is labelled a carbohydrate.

Carbohydrate vs. carbohydrate

Unfortunately all "carbs" are not created equal. This umbrella heading covers everything, including dietary fibre, sugar alcohols, sugar, starch, gums and so on.

The only subcategories that must appear on the label are sugar and dietary fibre, although some manufacturers may volunteer more comprehensive information.

The reason the distinctions are so important is that not all carbohydrates are digested and absorbed (and therefore counted!), like dietary fibre, and others have a minimal effect on blood sugar levels, like sugar alcohols.

Sugar on the other hand, upon ingestion, raises blood sugar levels. Sugar alcohols include sorbitol, maltitol, glycerol, xylitol, erythritol and glycerine. Polyols may be used as a generic term for any of the sugar alcohols.

The carbs that count

What this means is, when you look at the total carbohydrate, you should also look at what makes up this number. As dietary fibre is not absorbed, this does not need to be counted, e.g. subtract the fibre from the total carbohydrate - and this is the carbs you count. Sugar alcohols have a minimal impact on blood sugar, so these do no need to be counted either. Here is an example?per serving of this food??

Total Carbohydrate (as defined by the FDA) 15 grams
Non calorific and/or non-blood sugar impacting carbs 12.5 grams
Polydextrose/Fibre 9 grams
Glycerine 2.5 grams
Sugar Alcohols 1 gram
Net carbs that count 2.5 grams

Beware of the serving size - is this the amount you actually are going to consume?
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The Naturopathic Team
Ideal Health

Disclaimer: The health information presented here has been written for the New Zealand health consumer. It is of a general nature and is only intended to provide a summary of the subjects covered and is intended to be used for educational and general information purposes only. It is not intended as medical advice or as a means to diagnose, treat, cure or prescribe for any particular condition or disease. You assume all responsibility for the treatment which may be undertaken as a result of the information on this site, or treatment recommended by any other party. While all care has been taken to ensure the accuracy of the information, no responsibility or liability is accepted, and no person should act in reliance on any statement contained in the information provided. All health ailments should be treated by a qualified health professional.


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