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Food Labels

It has been the law for a while now in Canada that large companies are required to put nutrition information (for example: carbohydrate, protein and fat per serving) on product labels.  

This nutritional information is presented in a standard food label format:

The basic process of label reading is relatively straight-forward:

  1. Identify the given Serving Size.  It’s important to recognize that the information provided in this Nutrition Facts table is based on the serving size specified at the top of the table.

  2. In our example, the serving size is listed as 1 cup, which is equivalent to 30 grams (in weight) of the product.


  3. Determine the total Carb Content of the given serving size.  Locate the Total Carbohydrates line and refer to the number right after “Total Carbohydrates” (in grams).  (Ignore the numbers followed by % signs – these are useful for comparing different products and making healthy choices, but are not involved in determining grams of carbs.)

  4. In our example, this is 24g of carbs.


  5. Determine the Available Carbs. Since fibre is not broken down in the process of digestion, it does not affect blood glucose, and therefore needs to be subtracted from the Total Carbohydrate determined in (3). The Canadian recommendations are to subtract out all of the grams of dietary fibre (versus American guidelines which suggest subtracting out half of the dietary fibre).

  6. In our example, Dietary Fibre is 5g, so 24g total carbs minus 5g fibre = 19g available carbs (per serving).


  7. Determine the expected serving size.  How much of this food would you expect your child to eat? Are you going to put 2 cups in the bowl? or 1/3 of a cup?


  9. Calculate the carb content of the expected serving size. You need to do a little bit more math to determine the carb content for the number of servings you expect your child to eat. (*Note: Both methods are shown below, but the weight method tends to be more accurate.)

Based on Volume of Food:

If you think your child will eat 2 cups of this food, since the serving size given is 1 cup, you will need to double the carb values given. In our example, 19g available carbs (for 1 cup) times 2 = 38g of carbs for the 2 cups of food you are going to serve.

If you think your child will eat 1/3 cup of this food, you will need to divide the carb values by 3. In our example, 19g available carbs divided by 3 = 6.3g (6g is close enough) of carbs for the 1/3c you are going to serve.

OR you could do the same calculations using the weight of the product instead of the volume...

Based on Weight of Food:

If you weigh the portion that you think your child will eat and the resulting serving weight is 60g of this food, you will need to double the carb values given, as the serving size given on the label is 30g (weight). In our example, 19g available carbs (for 30g weight) times 2 = 38g of carbs for the amount you are going to serve.

If you think your child will eat 10g of this food, you will need to divide the carb values by 3. In our example, 19g available carbs (for 30g weight) divided by 3 = ~6g of carbs for the amount you are going to serve.

tips from the trenches of type 1 diabetes
If this food product comes in a package that you will use the next time you prepare this food, get a big, fat, black Sharpie and write this number right on the box or bag so that you don’t have to do this all over again next time. And for foods that your child will eat often, jot these down on a piece of paper and tack it on your fridge or inside a cupboard door, with the corresponding typical serving size for your child. These time savers saved our sanity in the first weeks and months after diagnosis.

When your brain is no longer overwhelmed with the steep learning curve that follows diagnosis, and you’re ready for next steps, see Nutrition/Carb Factoring for more information on how to avoid having to re-do these weight calculations each time.

Note: We know all too well how the “expected serving size” you just calculated varies from the actual amount your child may be willing to eat when you put the bowl down in front of him or her, especially if that child is pre-school age or younger. I remember going for the apple juice to “top him up” many times when the run of one of my son’s favourite foods came to an abrupt end! For more tips on handling kids who are one step ahead of us, see the Coping and Family Life section of Waltzing the Dragon.

If your child is a patient at AB Children’s Hospital, your dietician will teach you how to use label information.

For more information on nutritional information, see the Alberta Health Services resource Label Reading the Healthy Way.

The above information was reviewed for content accuracy by clinical staff of the Alberta Children’s Hospital Diabetes Clinic.

This material has been developed from sources that we believe are accurate, however, as the field of medicine (in particular as it applies to diabetes) is rapidly evolving, the information should not be relied upon, as it is designed for informational purposes only. It should not be used in place of medical advice, instruction and/or treatment. If you have specific questions, please consult your doctor or appropriate health care professional.

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