Learning To Read Labels

woman reading food label at the supermarket

Be careful when reading the label.

There can be more than one serving size, so if you eat more than one, you will need to multiply the grams of carbohydrate accordingly.

If you eat packaged foods, a convenient way to figure out how much carbohydrate is in your food is to use the “Nutrition Facts Label.” The “Nutrition Facts Label” is found on the outside of the container.

To count carbohydrates, look at three things:

  • Serving Size
  • Number of Servings Per Container
  • Grams of Total Carbohydrate per serving

The total carbohydrate tells how many grams of carbohydrate are in one serving. Be careful when reading the label. There can be more than one serving in the package, so if you eat more than one serving, you will need to multiply the grams of carbohydrate accordingly.

Now let’s practice using a sample food label:

  • What if you eat more, or less than, one serving? Let’s practice with this example label.

  • The serving size listed is 3 pieces (or 90 grams if you are weighing the product).
  • The grams of total carbohydrate per serving is 30 grams.
  • If you eat 6 pieces, that is two servings. You would be getting 60 grams of total carbohydrate (1 serving = 30 grams  of total carbohydrate, 2 servings = 60 grams of total carbohydrate).
  • Or, if you only eat one piece, then you would only get 10 grams of carbohydrate. (If 3 pieces equals 30 grams of carbohydrate, then each piece must be 10 grams of carbohydrate.)

Remember, when you are learning to count carbohydrates, measure the exact serving size to help train your eye to see what portion sizes look like. When, for example, the serving size is 1 cup, then measure out 1 cup.  If you measure out a cup of rice, then compare that to the size of your fist.  In the future you would be able to visualize the rice in comparison to your fist. Keep doing this until you get a good idea of the weights and volumes of different foods. Measuring foods at home can also make you feel more comfortable with estimating portion sizes in restaurants.

Nutrition Facts labels list a breakdown of the total carbohydrate from dietary fiber, sugars and sugar alcohols. This can be confusing.

On Nutrition Facts food labels, the grams of dietary fiber are already included in the total carbohydrate count, but because fiber is a type of carbohydrate that your body can’t digest, the fiber does not increase your blood sugar levels. You may subtract the grams of fiber from the total carbohydrate. View this example Nutrition Facts label showing fiber.

On a nutrition food label, subtract the fiber from the total carbohydrate amount.

When you read food labels, the grams of sugar are already included in the total carbohydrate amount, so you do not need to count this sugar amount separately. The grams of sugar listed include both natural sugars, from fruit or milk, and added sugars.

On a nutrition food label, the total carbohydrate includes the sugar.

Some Nutrition Facts labels may also list sugar alcohols under total carbohydrate. Sugar alcohols may be found in products that are labeled “sugar-free” or “no sugar added.” But don’t be fooled – sugar alcohols are still a form of carbohydrate, and they still affect your blood sugar levels, if not as dramatically. Usually about half of the sugar alcohol is counted as carbohydrate. Learn more about counting sugar alcohols.

When counting carbohydrates, include half of the sugar from the sugar alcohol.

View an example of a Nutrition Facts label showing how to count sugar alcohols.

Self-assessment Quiz

Self assessment quizzes are available for topics covered in this website. To find out how much you have learned about  Understanding Carbohydrates, take our self assessment quiz when you have completed this section.  The quiz is multiple choice. Please choose the single best answer to each question. At the end of the quiz, your score will display. If your score is over 70% correct, you are doing very well. If your score is less than 70%, you can return to this section and review the information.

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