Learn Basic Label Skills: Sugar & Carbs! Wow your friends, amaze your surgeon, impress your nutritionist. (also good for losing weight!) 

After our bariatric surgery people assume we can figure out the label reading and fend for ourselves. We are given a few printed pages and sent on our way. NEWSFLASH! If label reading and nutrition were our strong point, we wouldn’t have needed WEIGHT LOSS SURGERY. Here are some of the very basic skills as a starter to build on. The questions asked in our Facebook Support Group tell us that this is an area that is greatly overlooked in pre op preparation and classes for bariatric surgery and that’s okay as we are here to help you. We’ve all been there! 

Mad Label Skills for Protein & Carbs!

Natural Sugar?

WHO KNEW THAT THE SUGAR FROM MILK COUNTS AS SUGAR ON A LABEL! If someone had just told me this, it would have saved me hours of shivering in front of the dairy cooler, reading labels and wondering why I was supposed to eat yogurt if it had so many carbs and what about all the sugar? Even the Plain Yogurt had sugar!??!!??? Huh? Tomatoes have natural sugar too… and Sweet Peppers… and Strawberries… and Peaches. These are not the sugar grams we are on the look out for when in small amounts… ADDED sugar is the problem and paired with additional carbs can slow our weight loss or even reverse it.


The other day at the store, I saw a package of chicken that said Gluten Free. I’m pretty sure that chicken has always been gluten free. Of course GLUTEN FREE is there to influence us, as many of us automatically think HEALTHY, just like when FAT FREE or LOW CARB was meant to subliminally convey healthy in their day. The point is, don’t let labels fool you with claims of All Natural, Gluten Free, Organic, Low Fat, Low in Carbohydrates, 100% Fruit… even a frozen fruit bar with ‘No Added Sugar can contain enough natural sugar to drop a gastric bypass post op to their knees. Never assume that because something has health claims on the label that its a good choice for you. READ EVERY LABEL.

Ruling OUT foods

I spent a lot of my early post op time staring at the Nutrition Fact boxes on labels when really there are just three things that were important: Grams of Sugar, Grams of Carbs, Servings per Container. I have a little routine I go through when I pick up a product from the shelf to quickly rule it out. If it passes these 3 quick general tests, I consider it a little deeper. This plus INGREDIENTS tells me all I need to know. For the 15 years since my bariatric surgery, I read every label the same way.

1. SUGAR – if a serving has 8 grams or more, it goes back on the shelf. Boom. Done.
2. If not, then CARBOHYDRATES – if a serving has 15 grams or more, back on the shelf. Done.
3. If not, then Servings per Container/Serving Size to make sure there isn’t any foolery like a too small serving or 3 servings for a bottle of drink that’s unlikely to be shared.
4. Locate INGREDIENTS on the container. They are listed in the order of most to least. If sugar is listed in either the One, Two, or Three spot, this food is not for someone who has had Obesity Surgery and it goes back on the shelf.

Let’s Try one for Fun

Someone posted a photo of this snack food in our Facebook Support Group and asked if it was okay to have it. Companies try to get you to buy their product and this one touted Reduced Sugar and talked a lot about FRUIT on the front, when this product is not much more than candy. There is no nutrition here.

  1. Sugar at 8 grams, it goes back on the shelf. No need to look further, but if we did…
  2. then Carbohydrates 18 grams, so back on the shelf! Done

When you look at the Ingredients, you can see that these are made from concentrated fruit sugar, corn syrup, sugar and more fruit sugar. This is a bad choice, this is NOT fruit and not good for anyone – do not feed it to your kids. This is why people have fat kids.



Spaghetti Sauce in a Jar 101

I am Italian but still use a jar of sauce now and then, but it has to be GOOD sauce with real ingredients that I would use in my kitchen. Look for hidden sugar in pasta sauce or even salsa. Sugar is in lots of packaged foods as it makes things yummier and softer and moister and even makes them more lip smackin. Look at this jar of Prego which is touted as being not only HEALTHY but Heart *SMART* and 100% Natural too! Let’s use our test.

  1. Sugar at 10 grams, this goes BACK ON THE SHELF!

Please notice that in Ingredients, sugar is in the number 4 spot.




Compare to Mario Batali Cherry Tomato Marinara Sauce and let’s use our test

  1. Sugar at 2 grams, so it passes
  2. then Carbs at 5 grams, so it passes
  3. Serving size is a generous 1/2 cup, so there is no manipulation of portion size
  4. INGREDIENT list has NO form of sugar at all and actually reads like a recipe

This is a GREAT product… the 2 grams of sugar comes from natural sugar in the vegetables that make up the sauce. Make a fast and healthy supper with Zucchini Noodles, ground beef and a jar of Mario Batali Cherry Tomato Marinara!



Mmmm mmmm good? Tomato Soup

Early after surgery we all look towards canned soup as we are told the Full Liquid phase includes CREAM SOUPS. What the heck is a cream soup? Cream of Chicken, Cream of Mushroom? Yuk. Noooo… cream soups means a smooth texture, not that they have to be creamy or milk based! Many of us end up with Cream of Tomato by default. Let’s apply our test to Campbell’s Creamy Tomato Soup.

  1. Sugar at 16 grams, put it back on the shelf. Done. We don’t need to go any further, but for fun, look at the other tests! Shocking
  2. Carbs at 26 grams! Wow
  3. Serving size is 2 per container, so there is even manipulation of portion size as this is a small cup
  4. INGREDIENT list has 1. Tomato 2. Water 3. High Fructose Corn Syrup (!!!)

I used to think that a ‘light supper’ of a cup of Creamy Tomato Soup and a GRILLED CHEESE was healthy… omg, I never knew it was so UNHEALTHY!

CampbellsTomatoNow let’s consider Amy’s Organic Tomato Soup

  1. Sugar at 14 grams, so it goes BACK ON THE SHELF
  2. then Carbs at 21 grams, so it goes double back on shelf
  3. Serving size is a 1 cup, which isn’t a lot in a soup bowl and many would eat the whole can
  4. INGREDIENT list has Organic Cane Juice as 5th ingredient, which is another name for sugar

Even the ORGANIC soup, that is Light in Sodium, has 0 Trans Fat, No added MSG, No GMO’s, No Bioengineered Ingredients, is not a good choice for a bariatric meal. Go with a lentil or black bean or vegetable soup but still apply your four point test!


While all this seems like a lot of work… if you buy and cook fresh food like lean meats & seafood, vegetables & fruits, lower fat dairy and avoid packaged convenience foods, it makes all this a lot easier. With practice you can use the four points I have taught you to quickly exclude foods or when they pass, consider then more carefully in regards to protein and nutrients. Next time we tackle yogurt and protein. 

32 thoughts on “Mad Label Skills: Sugar & Carbs, Part 1

  1. Sandra says:

    Thank you so very much for this article and 4-1-1. Love the easy to use (and remember) label reading guide. What about sodium?

    • Susan Maria Leach says:

      Sandra, we have enough to worry about. I dont look at sodium, never had high blood pressure in my life… basically ANYTHING in a jar or can or bottle or frozen has TOO MUCH SODIUM. Just made it easy for you… lol.

  2. Linda says:

    This article was extremely helpful. I have always struggled to understand labeling. This will be helpful for me to stay on track.

  3. Nonni says:

    This label reading is just what I needed. I am 4 years out and have gained 30 pounds! Yuck. Now I can see why. Thanks for the info. I have put it in my notes on my phone so when I go shopping I have my shopping arsenal. I feel better already. Thanks.

  4. Maria Trejo says:

    Absolutely great information to continue with weight loss. Just one question, how many carbs should one consume in one day? I’m 5 years pot op and have gained 20 pounds the last 3 years. I’m ready to get rid of those extra pounds plus 30 more.

  5. Anne Klein says:

    This is fantastic!

    The only difference is, my Nutritionist says 10 grams of sugar or less per serving. Now, I am confused if I should stay under 10 or 8. I’ve lost 97 pounds so far if that matters.

    • Susan Maria Leach says:

      Sheryl, allot for as little sugar as possible. I didnt want to complicate things as the intent of this article was to keep it simple, BUT… I still need to talk about the SOURCE of the sugar and how that makes a difference. At fifteen years post op I dont eat ANY added sugar. I havent had any real sugar in my house in all these years, everything I make is either Splenda or Truvia. I will only have a small plum AFTER I have eaten a protein meal earlier. Or a few grapes WITH cheese. I try to counteract even natural sugar with protein so I dont get sick. Thank you for asking! – SML

  6. Angela says:

    I printed the grocery list (staples for your pantry) on the BE site and carry it in my purse. The Amy’s organic chunky tomato bisque is on that list as a staple. It’s also in the article on how to make pure protein soup for newbies. So I’m a bit confused, is the soup only good for newbies and not long term or is it no longer good at all?

    • Susan Maria Leach says:

      ANGELA! Great catch… its fine for brand spanking new post ops as they eat so little of it and even water it down with a little broth. For the rest of us, no. I do need to remove it from the grocery list! Thank you. SML

  7. Jean T says:

    Thanks, Susan, for all you do for us. I love having your method to use, as I check every label and this will be a great timesaver!

  8. lynette says:

    I often wonder about the sugar and carbs in my homemade soups and wonder if it would pass the test. Especially when I see all these soups have tons of carbs in them even if they don’t have a lot of sugar. It’s sometimes hard to put a recipe in something like myfitness pal because i don’t really know how many ‘servings’ is in a pot of homemade soup! anyone have suggestions?

    • Susan Maria Leach says:

      Lynette, if each ingredient you use in a soup is a good choice food individually, meaning it’s a lower carb vegetable or lean meat, the pot of soup is a good choice as a whole. This is why I do not calculate nutrition stats recipes… What IS a serving size? Well, it’s the amount that my pouch will hold!

    • Angela says:

      I use myfitnesspal for my recipes. Just guess how many servings at first. Then after you portion it out in individual servings (which I do. I live alone) go back into myfitnesspal and edit the number of servings.

  9. mary beth says:

    Just trying to get back on track after having my band slip and the fluid taken out for awhile…now fluid is newly back in. (3 days) starting to get back on track…wondering what our calories per day should be along with all the other things to watch…

  10. Janet Monk says:

    Just to let you know, Chicken and some other meats are not always Gluten Free. Food companies have been injecting meats with Gluten containing fillers for years. I did not know this until I was diagnosed with Celiac Disease. The way I figured this out was by buying chicken breast that did contain a “broth” with Gluten added. It did make me sick!!!!!!!!!!! So please be careful about what you tell your readers.

  11. Lisa Perry says:

    Thank you so much for the information on labels . It was very helpful. I am always ready to learn. I tell my grandchildren all the time ” you never stop learning, no matter how old you become”.

  12. Cheryl says:

    Thank you for this , Im always confused at how much of each one we should be consuming. This is already on my phone and going shoppjng with me from now on…. you are the best

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