Reading Nutrition Labels: Carbohydrates, Sugars and Dietary Fibre

This is my second post in the “Reading Nutrition Panels” series, it will be focussing on carbohydrates, sugars and dietary fibre.

Carbohydrate: Carbs are the main source of fuel for the body, particularly for the brain (in the form of glucose) and are important for our gut health. Carbs also have other important roles in the body. We therefore need them for our health and survival.

There are different types of carbohydrates:

  • Monosaccharides
  • Disaccharides
  • Oligosaccharides
  • Polysaccharides

They are classified by the number of carbohydrate units they contain: so monosaccharides only have 1 unit, disaccharides have 2 units, oligosaccharides have between 2-10 units, and polysaccharides are long chained carbohydrates that have more than 10 units in it.

For label reading: Carbohydrate in the nutrition panel is usually only necessary to read if you have Diabetes, are on insulin and are carbohydrate counting*.

*Carbohydrate counting is when you have to match your insulin doses to the carbohydrate you have consumed, so you don’t have too much or too little insulin. If this is the case, a Dietitian or Doctor will teach you to carbohydrate count properly, as it can become complicated and you will often need to be dividing numbers and serving sizes in your head.

Sugars: Sugars are a type of carbohydrate in the form of a monosaccharide (i.e. lactose or glucose).

sugar

For label reading: Avoiding sugar completely is unnecessary, however sugar can be unhealthy for us if we consume it in large amounts. When reading the nutrition panel, aim for:

Keep in mind:

  • The sugar listed in the panel includes both naturally occurring sugar as well as added sugars.
  • The body needs sugar, and sugar from a natural source (i.e. milk or fruit) is a much wiser choice than added sugars in other products.

How can I tell if the product has added sugar?

Checking the ingredients list is the best way to check if a product has added sugars. If sugar (or any other terms that mean ‘sugar’) is listed in the ingredients list, then it has been added. The higher up in the ingredients list, the more sugar the product contains.

Some other names for sugar include:

  • Dextrose
  • Fructose
  • Glucose
  • Raw sugar
  • Golden syrup
  • Honey
  • Maple syrup
  • High fructose corn syrup
  • Maltose
  • Lactose
  • Brown sugar
  • Sucrose

fibre

Dietary fibre: A nutrient that is very important for our gut health. Dietary fibre is a nutrient superstar. Fibre not only helps with increasing bulk in the stool, it also ensures our gut bacteria is flourishing. Fibre has been shown in a number of studies to reduce the risk of some bowel and colon cancers, it helps in stabilising our blood sugar levels, it keeps us feeling full therefore helping to aid weight loss, and has a number of other important functions as well.

For label reading:

It is important to know that not all food labels will list the fibre content of the product. However, foods that are a fibre source will list it.

  • High source of fibre: >3g per serve of fibre

Remember, the average woman needs ~25g of fibre each day, and the average man needs ~30g of fibre. Many of us are not reaching these requirements due to our poor fruit and vegetable intake. Therefore, always try to choose the food option with the highest source of fibre, in order to help you reach your Recommended Daily Intake (RDI).

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