If you have diabetes, eating the right foods is key to staying healthy. Reading the Nutrition Facts labels on foods is an  important first step. You know that many foods can either help or hurt your health. And those labels can help you make the right decisions.

family at thanksigiving table

What’s on a Nutrition Facts label?

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) over- sees the safety of foods and beverages. By law, Nutrition Facts labels are on all prepared foods. You may also see Nutrition Facts labels on raw fruits and vegetables and on fish. The agency also specifies what information must be listed on the labels. These labels have a lot of information. They show the amounts of sugar, carbohydrates, sodium, cholesterol, dietary fiber, different types of fats, some vitamins, and other information.

Keep in mind that the amounts listed on a nutrition label are for 1 serving, not the entire package. Check the serving size. The package may contain more servings than you realize. The percentages on the label are for either a 2,000- or 2,500-calorie diet. Here’s a guide to what’s on  a label:

  • Serving size. This is the amount for 1 serving of the food. All the values on the label are based on 1 serving size.
  • Servings per container. This is how many servings are in the package.
  • Calories. This is the number of calories in 1 serving.
  • Calories from fat. This is the number of calories that come just from the fat in the food.
  • % Daily value. This is what percent the values are of a 2,000-calorie-a-day diet.
  • Total fat. This is how much of all types of fats are in 1 serving.
  • Saturated fat. This is how much saturated fat is in 1 serving. Saturated fat is an unhealthy
  • Monounsaturated fat. This is how much monounsaturated fat is in 1 serving. Monounsaturated fat is a healthy fat.
  • Polyunsaturated fat. This is how much polyunsaturated fat is in 1 serving. Polyunsaturated fat is a healthy fat.
  • Trans fat. This is how much trans fat is in 1 serving. Trans fat is an unhealthy fat.
  • Cholesterol. This is how much cholesterol is in 1 serving. Cholesterol is unhealthy in large amounts.
  • Sodium. This is how much sodium is in 1 serving. Sodium is unhealthy in large amounts.
  • Total carbohydrate. This means all types of carbohydrates in the food. It includes sugar, non-sugar carbohydrates and fiber.
  • Dietary fiber. This refers to the type of fiber that is hard for the body to digest, but has
    other important benefits. Fiber is healthy.
  • Sugars. This includes natural sugars and sugars that were added when the food was made. Sugar is unhealthy in large amounts.
  • Sugar alcohols. Sugar alcohols are replacements for sugar in sugar-free foods. They don’t affect blood sugar levels as much as regular sugar. They include sorbitol, mannitol, xylitol,
    and maltitol. Too much of these can cause nausea and diarrhea.
  • Protein. This is how much protein is in 1 serving. Protein is an important building block of the body.
  • Other nutrients. Near the bottom of the label, nutrients such as vitamins, calcium, and iron are listed. The percent values listed are for the recommended daily value for that nutrient. The FDA requires that the amounts of vitamin D and potassium are listed.

Your goals when picking foods

grandmother and grandson eating turkey legWhen you have diabetes, it’s important to keep your blood sugar at healthy levels. This means eating foods relatively low in carbohydrates. A second goal is to eat heart-healthy. This
is because people with diabetes have a higher risk for heart disease and stroke. To eat heart-healthy, you’ll need to limit sodium, cholesterol, and unhealthy fats. When you get in the
habit of reading labels, you’ll find many foods have versions that are better for you. Plus, some foods also have an American Heart Association Heart-Check label. This means that the food meets the AHA rules for being a heart-healthy food.

  • Know about carbs. All carbs are not the same. Carbohydrates may be sugars, starches, or fiber. Look at the Total Carbohydrate number on the label to see the total amount of
    carbohydrates in the food.
  • Choose low sodium. Many high-sodium foods come in low-sodium or salt-free versions . You can find low- sodium versions of cheeses, deli meats, soups, bread, crackers, and nuts.
  • Go low cholesterol. And many foods are naturally low in cholesterol or have no cholesterol. Foods from plants has no cholesterol, and has import- ant dietary fiber you need.
  • Look for low-fat and healthy fats. Look for foods that have lower amounts of saturated fat and trans fat. Pick foods with healthy fats, such as monounsaturated and polyunsaturated
    fats. And you can find fat-free versions of some foods that normally have less-healthy fats. For example, you can find fat-free or low-fat milk, cheese, yogurt, and sour cream. But be sure that your “fat-free” food choices are not simply “high-carb” foods in disguise. And while trans fats were banned by the FDA in 2018, foods can contain up to 0.5 grams of trans fats per serving and still be labeled as having 0 grams of trans fats.

Quick Shopping Tips

• Plan your meals and make a grocery list before you go shopping.
• Stick to your list and read labels before you buy foods.
• Limit foods high in unhealthy carbs, sodium, cholesterol, and saturated fat.
• Look for sugar-free and low-fat foods.

A Thanksgiving Menu Tune-Up

Holidays bring joy — and anxiety. How to cook, how to serve, and finally, how much? In an era when we all seem to be on a diet, do you give in and make everything Grandma did?
Today’s goal is not to re-create a Norman Rock- well painting, but to make a festive meal you will be happy to serve on Thanksgiving Day. The biggest change: If you don’t need to present
the whole turkey for carving at the table, cook a turkey breast instead.

Cooking times
If you start with a fresh turkey breast, you don’t have to worry about thawing it in time to cook for dinner. It will probably come with directions and a pop-up timer, but here are the basics: A 5-pound to 6-pound turkey breast roasted at 325 °F will cook in about 2 hours. Basting with butter or oil isn’t necessary. You’ll remove the skin before slicing and serving, because that’s where most of the fat is. The breast will supply about 3 pounds of solid white meat. A 3-ounce serving — about the size of a deck of cards — contains 115 calories, 26 grams of protein, less than a gram of fat, 71 mg of cholesterol, no carbohydrate or fiber, and 44 mg of sodium.

Here’s “the skinny” on other holiday favorites:

  • Gravy. A turkey breast won’t provide a lot of juice, so add some nonfat chick- en broth. To thicken, start with a tablespoon of flour or cornstarch dissolved in a half cup of cold water. Stir it with a whisk. Add chopped mushrooms for a giblet texture.
  • Vegetables. Instead of adding things to your vegetables, let them be them- selves. Steam the beans and use fresh-cut veggies as an appetizer tray, maybe with a little low-fat dip. Plain sweet potatoes — hold the marshmallows, please — add color to your plate.
  • Dessert. Skip the big pies and do a tray of mini-tarts or petit fours from a bakery or the freezer.

Talking turkey

  • The great plate debate. Consider using 8-inch plates and leaving Grandma’s 10-inch china in the cupboard. Smaller plates will help people choose smaller portions without
    having to think about it
  • .Fuss less. Clean up as you go and use cooking utensils that make cleanup easy. Aluminum foil makes a perfect cover to keep your turkey breast from over-browning and your outside-the-bird stuffing from drying out.
  • Plan your menu. Shoot for quality, not quantity. You don’t need more food than your family and guests will eat or more leftovers than you can enjoy. As you plan
    the menu, ask what they’d miss if it weren’t there.

Call for Help.

You can call the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline toll-free at 888-MPHotline (888-674-6854) from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. weekdays except federal holidays. On Thanksgiving Day, it’s open from
8 a.m. to 2 p.m. The USDA will answer e-mail questions sent to MPHotline.fsis@usda.gov.