The start to healthy eating in 2021 making sense of food labels

As we embark on a new year, it’s time to make the typical resolutions and promises to eat healthier, exercise and take better care of ourselves. This is a practice that we go through every year, but resolutions don’t always stick. In fact, “the statistics on how many people actually follow through and accomplish their New Year’s resolutions are rather grim. Studies have shown that less than 25% of people actually stay committed to their resolutions after just 30 days, and only 8% accomplish them.”1 Don’t be part of that statistic. This year, vow to set goals and lifestyle changes instead of resolutions.

Eating healthy is important for everyone, but for someone living with Diabetes it could be a matter of life or death. The first step in eating healthy is to understand what you’re eating and that means making sense of food labels and deciphering what they truly mean. If you understand what you are putting into your body and how it will affect you, then you can better manage and keep your Diabetes under control.

At Quest Health Solutions, we believe that food education is important for those living with Diabetes, as well as their caregivers and healthcare professionals. Our first goal of the new year is to start with the nutrition facts label. Before you open the package and put that cookie, spoonful of ice cream, potato chip or whatever else in your mouth … read the label.

People look at the nutrition facts on food labels for various reasons. Whether you’re counting calories, want to lose weight, watching salt content or monitoring sugar – whatever the reason may be – understanding food labels can be a challenge, a mystery. Let us take some of the guesswork out of the mix and help you decipher food labels so you can start the new year off right and start eating healthy right away.


This is the foundation to understanding exactly what you’re eating. Let’s use a pint of Ben & Jerry’s Chunky Monkey ice cream as an example. Even though we shouldn’t, it’s very easy to sit down on the couch with a pint of our favorite ice cream and devour its entire contents while watching a movie. At first glance, it’s a mere 400 calories, not too bad. But, it also includes 41 grams of total carbohydrates with 38 of those grams coming from sugar. A sweet treat and an indulgence for sure, but as long as the rest of that day’s diet and blood glucose level appear to be ok – perhaps you can partake. But, the bad news is those are the numbers for just one serving of your favorite ice cream and the serving size is only 2/3 of a cup. That’s a pretty small scoop of ice cream. So, while it’s easy to sit down and eat that entire pint in one sitting the hard reality is that would equate to 1200 calories, 74 grams of fat, and 123 grams of total carbs with 113 of those grams consisting of sugar. Eating that entire pint could be catastrophic. The same thing goes with something as simple as potato chips. A serving of potato chips is considered to be only 15 chips. It’s very easy to tear threw a bag of chips and eat way more than 15 so knowing the serving size of what you’re eating is imperative.


This is a confusing part of the nutrition label for many because the numbers don’t add up to 100%. “Instead, the %DV is the percentage of the Daily Value for each nutrient in a serving of the food. It can tell you if a serving of food is high or low in a nutrient and whether a serving of the food contributes a lot, or a little, to your daily diet for each nutrient.”2 Here is a general guide to %DV to help clear up some of the confusion:

  • ● 5% DV or less of a nutrient per serving is considered low2
  • ● 20% DV or more of a nutrient per serving is considered high2

Making food trade-offs is nothing new for patients living with Diabetes, but the %DV is another element to factor into the equation and can help better guide you when deciding which foods to include in your daily menu.


Calories are a measure of how much energy the body gets from one serving of a particular food. As you saw from the pint of ice cream example, calories can add up very quickly so always check the serving size first and use that as a guide for healthy eating. Everyone’s daily caloric consumption level is different based on height, weight, gender, fitness level, health and desired weight. As a standard, recommended dietary allowances use 2,000 calories as a guide and this is the unit of measurement used to calculate the facts on the nutrition label.


The name itself implies that you should steer clear of foods high in fat. It just seems like common sense, but fat is actually needed to cushion organs, support cell growth, store energy, and more. Fats are higher in calories per gram so it’s important to control portions. “The American Diabetes Association recommends including more monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats than saturated or trans fats in your diet and recognizes that eating the right types of fats can help in reducing the risk of Type 2 Diabetes, cardiovascular disease and other health issues.”3


This is an area of the food label that Diabetes patients should monitor closely and should be used to guide every food decision. When looking at the nutrition label, it’s important to look at the total carbohydrates listed. They all count and are broken down into the three main types of carbohydrates which are sugar, starch and fiber. However, you won’t find starch listed on the label, but you can get an estimate by adding total dietary fiber and total sugars and then subtracting that amount from the total carbohydrates listed on the label.


This is an important section of the label to understand, especially for those living with Diabetes. One question to ask is what are added sugars and how are they different from the total sugar?

“Total Sugars on the nutrition facts label includes sugars naturally present in many nutritious foods and beverages, such as sugar in milk and fruit as well as any added sugars that may be present in the product.”2 Ironically, no %DV has been established for total sugars because no official recommendation has been made for the total amount to eat each day. But, for someone with Diabetes this is one of the most important items on the list, so the key is to know your body and how different foods affect your blood glucose level.

“Added Sugars include sugars that are added during the processing of foods (such as sucrose or dextrose), foods packaged as sweeteners (such as table sugar), sugars from syrups and honey, and sugars from concentrated fruit or vegetable juices. Diets high in calories from added sugars can make it difficult to meet daily recommended levels of important nutrients while staying within calorie limits.”2

It is important to note that you will always see the word includes (incl.) before the words added sugars because they are already added into the total sugar number. This is actually something new that is a mandate as of January 2021, but many companies already include these facts in their nutrition labels now which is extremely helpful for those trying to control sugar intake.

Many products taut that they are sugar-free or safe for Diabetes patients. Here is a general guideline to use to make sure products are truly safe to eat:

  • ● A sugar- free product must contain less than 0.5 grams of sugar per serving.
  • ● A reduced sugar version of a product must contain at least 25% less sugar per serving than the original version.
  • ● A product that states no sugar added or says it is without added sugars must contain NO sugar or any sugar-containing ingredient that is added during processing.


Fiber is a type of carbohydrate and can always be found listed under the total carbohydrate section of the nutrition label. “Fiber is the part of plant foods that is not digested or only partially digested.”4 Fiber is needed to maintain digestive health. “Eating a diet high in dietary fiber can increase the frequency of bowel movements, lower blood glucose and cholesterol levels, and reduce calorie intake.”2 Examples of foods that are high in fiber include broccoli, beans, whole grains, apples, nuts, and popcorn.


The “good nutrients” and ones that we should strive to eat more of and are generally considered to be dietary fiber, vitamin D, calcium, iron and potassium. “Diets higher in vitamin D, calcium, iron, and potassium can reduce the risk of developing osteoporosis, anemia, and high blood pressure.”2 Nutrients to eat in moderation and to monitor closely, “the bad ones” are saturated fat, sodium, and added sugars.”2

We haven’t mentioned sodium yet, but in addition to monitoring sugar, sodium levels require attention as well. “If you have Diabetes or prediabetes, the amount of sodium consumed can worsen your condition by causing high blood pressure. Those with Diabetes are at greater risk of high blood pressure, which can make a person more susceptible to heart disease, stroke and kidney disease.”5 Whether you have Diabetes or not, 2300 milligrams (mg) or less is considered the general recommendation”4


Understanding how to read food labels is the key to achieving your goal of healthy eating and managing your Diabetes in 2021 and beyond. Combining your food knowledge and using it in tandem with a Continuous Glucose Monitor is an even smarter strategy for success. Why?

Advances in Continuous Glucose Monitoring Systems (CGMs), like the FreeStyle Libre, allow you to monitor glucose levels in seconds. You’ll know exactly how that tiny scoop of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream will affect you. A Continuous Glucose Monitor shows you what direction your glucose is heading, the speed in which it is moving and helps to figure out next steps to avoid a potential crisis. It also stores historical data and identifies trends and is invaluable when it comes to meal planning.


Now that you’re armed with the information you need to decipher nutrition labels, you are well on your way to healthy eating and living in 2021. At Quest, we are always here to help you on your food journey so that you can stay in control of your Diabetes. To learn more about how Continuous Glucose Monitors can be used to eat healthier and better manage your Diabetes, contact us at 1-877-888-7050 Option 3, Ext. 1011 or email or schedule an appointment today.

1. (2018) Forbes. This Year, Don’t Set New Year’s Resolutions. Available at Click Here accessed on 23 December 2020.

2. (2020) FDA. How to Understand and Use the Nutrition Facts Label. Available at Click Here accessed on 23 December 2020.

3. (2020) American Diabetes Association. Fats. Available at Click Here accessed on 26 December 2020.

4. (2020) American Diabetes Association. Eating Doesn’t Have to be Boring. Available at Click Here accessed on 26 December 2020.

5. (2018) Healthline. Does Eating Too Much Salt Give You Diabetes? Available at Click Here accessed on 27 December 2020.