How to Read the Nutritional Label: The Basics

I read this piece a while back about 3 important things you really need to know from a food label as a person with diabetes. It was really good. However, the labelling laws differ between the US and the EU, so I thought I would adapt it a little for those of us living with diabetes in Ireland. DISCLAIMER ALERT - I am not a medical professional, I am not a dietitian or nutritional coach. I am only a person living with type 1 diabetes for 24 years with a very hungry quest for knowledge and have learned a thing or two about my own diabetes. ALWAYS consult with your diabetes team.

Here’s is what I have learned over the years about how to approach food labels living in Ireland …. After I fish them out of the bin;-)

From Diabetes Daily’s “3 Critical Food Label Elements for People with Diabetes” (In Ireland)


The most important thing, initially, for people with diabetes to decipher on the nutritional label is the carbohydrates. When you look at a label, find the number of carbohydrates.

There will be a number of grams (”g”) and a percentage to the far right. You can use either to work out the amount of carbs on your plate.”

I usually use the percentage, then serve and weigh my portion using a digital weighing scales. Then calculate the number of carbs in my portion.

So if I put 100g of rice on my plate and I know the percentage of carb in cooked rice is 30% (100 x .30=30g).


THIS IS WHERE THE BIG DIFFERENCE BETWEEN IRELAND / EUROPE AND US IS. Under EU law, our labels have already subtracted the dietary fibre. And we don’t have total or net carbs on our labels.

“Fiber is actually a type of carbohydrate that is not digested by our bodies. Since it’s not digested, it doesn’t affect our blood sugars. WHEN VISITING THE US REMEMBER TO SUBTRACT FIBRE! ** People visiting Europe from the US please remember to ignore the fibre.

“OF WHICH IS SUGARS / Sugars Are Included

This is usually directly under carbohydrates. ”This would refer to simple, unrefined sugars, such as the white, granular stuff commonly called “table sugar.” It also includes any other simple sugars, such as fructose found in fruit. Both the sugars that are naturally occurring in the food and any added sugars are included in this number.

The number of sugars are already included in the “Carbohydrate” figure, so you don’t need to count them separately.”


In Ireland, the label is given as per 100g/ml and/or per serving. This makes carb counting really easy.

I use the carb factor (which represents the percentage of the food’s weight that is carbohydrate. This is found under the “Per 100g” column on the nutrition label).

Food Weight (in grams) X Carb Factor = Carb Count

“Often the serving size will seem like a much smaller portion than you think is reasonable. It takes actually measuring out your portions to learn to recognize (and reprogram your thinking) a “reasonable” portion. Try this experiment: take your favorite snack and put on a plate or a bowl what you think a single serving should be. Then check the package for the serving size and pull out your weighing scales. Will the amount you’ve already portioned out fit in the appropriate measuring device? Does it overflow?

Now you have a better sense of how much an actual serving size is for this particular food, and when you go to the nutrition label, you’ll be getting the facts that match that amount.

An easy way to reduce your carb intake without changing much else about your diet is to simply reduce the recommended serving size. Conversely, it’s also really easy to wind up eating too many carbs, even when you think you’re doing well by eating low-carb foods, because you’re actually eating more than one serving at a time.”

I really did enjoy reading Rebecca Dugas piece, especially the story she recounts leading into it. Rebecca is a vegetarian and sometimes struggles with her low-carb, plant-based diet. She created the website Diabetic Herbivore to help other diabetic vegetarians to survive and thrive through information, recipes, resources, reviews, education, and support.

I do feel that our food labels in Ireland and the EU are a little less complicated though.

If you would like to delve deeper into food labels, here's a leaflet from Diabetes Ireland produced a couple of years ago.