From The Nutritionist

Melissa Altman-Traub MS, RDN, LDN
Guest Author:
Melissa Altman-Traub MS, RDN, LDN

Nutrition Facts Panel: Decoded for Diabetes

The Nutrition Facts Panel has earned a reputation for causing some confusion. This is in part because different health conditions or dietary restrictions require us to focus our eyes on different elements of the food label.

When working with clients who have diabetes, I am often asked how to use the Nutrition Facts Panel on food labels. Some of the most common questions are:

"What should I watch out for on food labels?"
"I always check for the sugar, is that right?"
"If a food has fiber in it, is it a ‘free food’?"

If you find yourself asking the same questions, read on to learn how to make sense of the Nutrition Facts Panel.

Where should you start?

Serving size and servings per container are at the top for a reason. They are the most important place to start. The first thing you should check is the serving size. For example, a serving of fruit juice or a soft drink is 8 fl. oz. However, if people drink the whole bottle, which could be 20 fl. oz., then the calories and carbohydrates on the label would have to be multiplied by 2.5 for the correct amount consumed. That being said, try to stick to the suggested serving size as your portion too!


Nutrition facts
One serving of this beverage is 8 fl. oz., and there are two servings per container.
If you drink the whole bottle, you’d need to multiply all the nutrients by two to find out how much you consumed.

Which nutrient is the most important? Next, check the total carbohydrates. A common nutrition myth is that only the sugar in a food affects blood sugar. However, both starch (complex carbohydrates) and simple sugar will raise blood sugar levels.

Which foods contain carbohydrates? Sweets of course, but some sources are less obvious. One serving of fruit, milk, yogurt (without added sugar), or starch (like bread, crackers, rice, baked beans) provides about 15 grams (g) of carbohydrate. If you use the carbohydrate exchanges (which used to be called the diabetes or ADA exchanges), then 15 g of carbohydrate = 1 carbohydrate serving.

How much and how often? A typical meal should be around 45-60 g of carbohydrate.* Those carbohydrates should come from a variety of foods. When reading the carbohydrates on the labels, see how the food would fit into your day – allowing for consistent carbohydrate intake throughout the day.

*Individual carbohydrate needs will vary from person to person and you should meet with a dietitian or certified diabetes educator to help you best meet your needs.

Look for “Total Carbohydrate” on the nutrition facts panel – focus on this rather than sugars when planning meals.

For this sugar-sweetened beverage, you can see that one serving has 19 g carbohydrate. If you were to drink the whole bottle, you’d count 38 g – leaving little room for more nutrient-dense carbohydrates in your meal.

Why focus on fiber content?

For starters, many of us don’t get enough fiber. Fiber is a part of plant food that we are not able to digest. High fiber foods aren’t necessarily “free” foods, but it is possible that they aid in digestion, help keep us regular and help you feel full longer. Most Americans fall significantly short of the approximately 25-30 g daily recommendation.1 Look for foods that provide at least 3 g of fiber or more per serving, as a good choice.

Opt for more of the good stuff!

Keep in mind that some sugary products like candy and soda, have little else to offer. Check on the nutrition facts panel for positive nutrients like protein, fiber, vitamin and minerals that are beneficial to health.

A simple example from my day

A Pepperidge Farm® 100% Whole Wheat mini bagel is something I love at breakfast time or as a snack with light cream cheese or almond butter (it also makes a great base for a pizza bagel). The portion size is very convenient. Instead of containing over 300 calories and 60 or more grams of carbohydrate like many “regular” sized bagels, each one is 100 calories with 20 grams carbohydrate—and the 3 g of fiber in each is a plus!

Parting words

Hopefully you now feel more confident when reading food labels. It can be a great tool for diabetes management. The key words to focus on the food label to “decode for diabetes” are serving size, servings per container, total carbohydrate, fiber and more of the “good stuff” we discussed.

Yours in Good Health,

Melissa


Melissa’s Bio:

Melissa Altman-Traub MS, RDN, LDN is a college nutrition instructor and has been a registered dietitian for over 20 years. She has a Bachelor's degree in nutrition from the Pennsylvania State University and a Master’s degree in Health Education from Arcadia University. Her areas of expertise include plant-based diets, diabetes, and kidney disease. Visit her website at http://about.me/melissatraubrd.


References

  1. http://www.diabetes.org/food-and-fitness/food/what-can-i-eat/understanding-carbohydrates/types-of-carbohydrates.html Types of Carbohydrates. Accessed Sept 19th, 2014.

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En Papillote Technique

1. Prepare the parchment paper
Get a large piece of parchment paper, approximately 2.5 times as large as a single portion of food. Cut the paper into a heart shape, lightly brushing one side with oil. This creates a slight barrier to water, preventing the paper from becoming soaked too quickly. Another option, though not as attractive, is to use tin foil instead of parchment paper.

2. Select the ingredients
This is a very quick-cooking approach, so it works best with tender proteins such as fish and shellfish. The accompanying ingredients, like julienned vegetables (matchstick size), must be small enough to cook at the same rate as the fish. In some cases the vegetables can be blanched, or quickly cooked in boiling water, to ensure proper doneness. Fresh herbs will go a long way in providing flavor.

3. Assemble the packet
Lay the oiled, heart-shaped paper on a baking tray, oiled side up. Season your vegetables with salt, pepper, extra virgin olive oil, and half of the herbs. Toss them around for an even coat. Place enough for one portion on half of the paper. Bunch them up to create a bed for your fish, leaving about two inches between the food and the edge of the paper. Place the seasoned fish on the vegetables and sprinkle the remaining herbs. Add a splash of the liquid on top of the fish, just enough to add moisture.

4. Seal the packet
To seal, fold the heart over to enclose the fish and vegetables (so it resembles a teardrop). Starting at the top of the heart, fold about 1/4" of the edge toward the center. Fold over again to create a seal. Continue along the length of the parchment, folding each section twice. When you get to the point of the heart, twist and fold to finish the seal.

5. Bake your dinner
Bake the packet in a 425°F oven for 10-14 minutes, depending on the size of the fish. The packet will puff and brown while in the oven and as the steam builds. When cooked, remove from the oven and carefully place the packet on a plate. With a knife or scissors cut an "X" on the top and fold back the edges for a dramatic presentation and a delicious, healthy meal.

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Spicy Flounder and Clams with Summer Vegetables

Prep Time: Less than 20 minutes
Cooking Time: 10-14 minutes
Yield: 2 servings

Ingredients:

  • 1/3 cup carrots, finely cut julienne
  • 1/3 cup sugar snap peas, cross cut thinly
  • 1/3 cup zucchini, yellow, finely cut julienne
  • 6 each cherry tomatoes, cut in half
  • 1 Tbsp. shallot, minced
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tsp. parsley, fresh, minced
  • Dash salt
  • Dash black pepper
  • 6 oz. fillet, flounder (2 fillets, 3oz. each)
  • 2 Tbsp. Low Sodium Spicy Hot V8® 100% Vegetable juice
  • 3/4 lb. clams, in the shell

Instructions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 425°F.
  2. Combine the carrots, sugar snap peas, zucchini, cherry tomatoes, shallot, garlic, extra virgin olive oil, half of the parsley, salt and pepper in a bowl. Toss well to combine.
  3. Lightly oil two large heart shaped pieces of parchment paper.
  4. With the parchment paper on a sheet tray, place half of the vegetable mixture in the center of one half of each heart leaving about a 2" border.
  5. Lightly season each fillet with salt and pepper. Fold or roll the fillet to create a uniform thickness and place on top of the vegetables.
  6. Top the fish with the remaining herbs and the Low Sodium Spicy Hot V8® 100% Vegetable juice.
  7. Place half of the clams around each portion of vegetables and fish.
  8. Fold the heart over to enclose the fish and vegetables so that it resembles a teardrop.
  9. Starting at the top of the heart, fold about 1/4" of the edge towards the center. Fold over again to create a seal.
  10. Continue with this method along the length of the parchment packet folding each section twice to make an attractive edge.
  11. When you get to the point of the heart twist and fold to finish the seal.
  12. Bake the packets for 10-14 minutes (depending on the thickness of the fish).
  13. Remove from the oven and serve by cutting an "X" in the top and folding back the edges.

Nutrition Information (per serving):

Calories 180, Total Fat 9g, Saturated Fat 1g, Monounsaturated Fat 5g, Polyunsaturated Fat 1g, Cholesterol 50mg, Sodium 450mg, Carbohydrate 10g, Fiber 2g, Sugar 4g, Protein 16g.