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Carbohydrates: The Next Item on the label

This section of the Nutrition Facts label is the most difficult to read accurately because it could have up to six lines: Total Carbohydrates, Dietary Fiber, Soluble Fiber, Sugars, Sugar Alcohols, and Added Sugars.  Most Nutrition Facts labels only have Total Carbohydrates, Dietary Fiber, and Sugars.

Total Carbohydrates includes all the starches, fiber, sugar, sugar alcohols, and naturally occurring and added sugars in the product.

Dietary Fiber Your body needs about 25 grams per day for adult women and about 38 grams per day for adult men. There are two kinds of fiber – soluble which absorbs water in the gastrointestinal tract, and insoluble, which does not. Insoluble fiber adds bulk, or volume, to your stool while soluble fiber absorbs water and makes is softer and easier to pass. Beans, broccoli and cauliflower are examples of foods that contain insoluble fiber. Oatmeal and barley are examples of good sources of soluble fiber.

Sugars include both naturally occurring sugars and Added Sugars. Therefore, you must check the ingredients list to identify the types of sugar in the product. The front label can claim “no sugar added,” yet the beverage or food can contain naturally occurring sugar from fructose in fruits or lactose in milk, as well as sugar in vegetables, cereals, grains, and legumes. This is fine. But it can also include added sugar alcohols, the more complex sugars, and other sugar like things that are not required to be listed in the Nutrition Facts label. It is voluntary to list the number of grams of sugar alcohols (polyols) or the more complex sugars per serving. Four grams of sugar means 1 teaspoon of sugar, whether it is a carbohydrate healthy for you or not.

There is no Daily Reference Intake amount for the total amount of sugar you should eat every day. And you are likely sensitive to the refined sugars, which will not be named on the Nutrient Facts label. Sugar alcohols (sorbitol, xylitol, erythritol, and mannitol) are other sweeteners that could occur naturally in foods. But often, they are additives in products such as gum and mints. Although not as sweet as sucrose, they have the advantage of being less likely to cause tooth decay thus they are not considered “sugar” by the powers that be. When sugar alcohols are used as the sweetener, the product may be labeled “sugar-free” but the product may not be “calorie-free”.

 Ingredients List: The ingredients list is usually located under the Nutrition Facts label or on the side of a food label. This list is required when a food is made with more than one ingredient.

Ingredients are listed in order by weight, with the greatest amount listed first and the least amount last. Check this list carefully, paying special attention to the first five ingredients, and avoid products in which any name for sugar is in the first five ingredients.

Naturally occurring sugars, such as those in fruit and milk, aren’t listed separately on the ingredients list. In addition, you won’t always see the word “sugar” in the ingredients list.

Look at this label:  twenty four grams of carbohydrate include only 1 gram of fiber but 19 grams sugar. That means there are only 4 grams of nutrient rich carbohydrate. (Total carbohydrate minus Dietary Fiber minus Sugars). 4 grams of sugar is 1 teaspoon of sugar.  That means that this product contains almost five teaspoons of sugar from five different sugars (sugar; marshmallows which have sugar, corn syrup, and food starch-modified; and corn syrup solids) –in each serving. When added together, sugar may become the main ingredient. In my office we have a list of 140 names for sugar. Call or email my secretary, Jennifer, and she will send you a copy.

We will continue with this next week and talk about the Ingredient List and how to make good decisions about your food choices.

Please send me your questions.

Blessings to you,


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