Anne, one of our nutritionists, walks us through how to read the Nutrition Facts panel on a food label. Understanding how to read a nutrition label can help you make healthy choices at the grocery store.
You’re doing it. You’ve switched from white to whole grain bread, made an effort to eat more vegetables, and cut back on red meat in favor of lean protein like chicken and fish. It’s great that you’re taking steps to eat healthier, but you still have to pay attention to your portion sizes. Even healthy foods have calories which, if eaten in excess, can lead to unwanted weight gain. But with the way portion sizes at restaurants and grocery stores have grown over the years, it’s often difficult to judge the correct serving size for many foods.
Before we go on, it might be a good idea to explain the difference between portion and a serving. A serving is the amount of food experts recommend you eat; a portion is the amount of food you choose to eat. So, there may be several servings of pasta in that one plate (portion) of spaghetti at the Italian restaurant.
The serving size of packaged foods is on the Nutrition Facts label, right at the top. The nutritional information on the label (calories, carbs, fat, sodium, etc) is all based on the serving size. Now, this doesn’t mean you’re limited to eating one serving at a time—just be aware that if you eat two or more servings the nutrition facts go up accordingly.
Preparing meals at home gives you more control over what goes on your plate. By using measuring cups/spoons and a kitchen scale to portion out food, you’ll get a real sense of what the serving size looks like. If done often enough, this will help you learn to “eyeball” portions fairly accurately. Another trick is using the size of your hand or common household objects to estimate portion size. If you’re eating out, don’t feel you have to eat the entire plate in one sitting. Try splitting an entrée with a friend or ask for a to-go box to be delivered with your meal and pack up half your plate before taking that first bite.
Having Diabetes doesn’t mean certain foods are “off limits”—but you do have to be more aware of what you’re eating (and how much). Understanding serving size and portions will help you maintain good control of both your blood sugar and weight.