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May 3, 2011 > What You Should Know About Carbs and Food Labels

What You Should Know About Carbs and Food Labels

Washington Hospital Seminar Helps Those With Diabetes Eat Right

If you have diabetes, you know that limiting your carbohydrate intake can help keep blood glucose levels under control. But knowing the amount of carbs in the different foods you eat can be daunting. Food labels can help, but you need to know how to read them. And are some carbs better than others? What can food labels tell you about that?

"Controlling the number of carbs is a topic that comes up regularly when people with diabetes are trying to plan their meals," said Lorie Roffelsen, a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator at Washington Hospital. "Food labels are a great place to start when it comes to counting carbs."

She will present "What You Should Know About Carbs and Food Labels" on Thursday, May 5, from 7 to 8 p.m., at the Conrad E. Anderson, M.D. Auditorium, 2500 Mowry Avenue (Washington West), in Fremont. The seminar is part of Washington Hospital's free monthly Diabetes Matters education series. You can register online at or call (510) 745-6556 for more information.

Roffelsen will start with a basic overview of food labels and how to read them. Practically every packaged food product in the U.S. contains a standard label that gives information about the ingredients and nutrients contained in the food.

She said the first place to start is at the top, where the serving size is listed. All of the information on the label is based on the serving size.
"If you are eating more or less than one serving, you need to account for that," she explained. "For example, if you eat two servings, you need to double the amount of calories, carbs, and other nutrients listed to know exactly what you are consuming."

The label lists the amount of calories, fat, cholesterol, sodium, total carbohydrates, fiber, sugars, and protein as well as other nutrients like vitamin A and C, calcium, and iron contained in one serving. It also shows how many calories are from fat and how much of the fat is saturated and trans fat.
"Labels can help you stay away from things that should be limited like carbs, added sugars, fat, and sodium while helping you ensure you eat enough of the nutrients you need," Roffelsen said. "They also allow you to compare foods so you can make better choices."

Making Healthy Choices
She will emphasize the need for people with diabetes to eat a "heart healthy" diet because diabetes raises the risk for heart disease. That means limiting the amount of calories, sodium, and cholesterol, and choosing products made with healthy fats, according to Roffelsen.

The ingredient list on the label tells the source of the fat. If you compare the ingredients in a cookie to those of a granola bar, for example, you will probably see that the fat in the granola bar is due to seeds and nuts contained in the product, which is a healthier form of fat than what you would probably find in a cookie, which will generally be made with a saturated fat, she explained.

"I'll talk about the ingredients and how to distinguish a good choice from a not-so-good choice," she said. "For example, it's better to pick products that use liquid oils like olive or canola rather than those that use unhealthy hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils, or saturated fats like palm kernel oil."

"When I talk about carbs, I will emphasize that all carbs are not created equal," Roffelsen said. "Although the total carb amount can be kept similar depending on the portion, the nutritional value can be very different. The better carb choices contain whole grains, a good source of B vitamins, antioxidants, and fiber. There is a lot of evidence that whole grains can help to lower your risk for cardiovascular disease."

She will also discuss how to evaluate products labeled "sugar free" to help participants make choices that fit both a heart-healthy and diabetes meal plan. Roffelsen said products labeled "sugar free" may be lower in total carbohydrates, but are often higher in fat than the regular version of that product, not necessarily making it a better choice.

In addition, she will talk about artificial sweeteners and sugar alcohols, often found in products marketed to people with diabetes or those watching calorie intake. Unlike sugar, artificial sweeteners generally do not raise blood glucose levels, and sugar alcohols cause only a limited glycemic response, according to Roffelsen. She will go over the different types that are available and some of the issues that people need to be aware of when using these products. For example, consuming sugar alcohols like sorbitol in large amounts can cause diarrhea and other stomach upsets, she said.

"I want to encourage people to bring a product or food label they would like to discuss or have explained," Roffelsen said. "We can go over the label together and figure out the key information it contains about that product."
To find out about other diabetes programs, visit
Diabetes Matters: Carbs and Food Labels TCV May 3, 2011 Caitlin Kerk 408.972.5781 ? Page 2

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