Your Guide to Counting Carbs

Carbohydrate counting, a meal planning technique, allows diabetics to manage blood glucose levels efficiently.

The biggest impact on blood sugar comes from carbs because 90 percent of them break down into glucose. Keeping track of how many carbs you eat and setting daily maximums can help you maintain healthy blood glucose levels. Work with your doctor to determine your daily allowance of carbs.

Getting Started

The first thing to do is identify the foods with carbs. These include starches like breads, potatoes, and cereals as well as fruits, dairy, beer, wine, and sweets. Healthy complex carbs found in whole-grains, fruits, vegetables, and legumes allow glucose to be processed slowly along with many other nutrients. Sweets and alcohols lack vital nutrients and result in blood sugar spikes. Start off by aiming for 45 to 60 grams of carbs per meal. Adjust this number according to your management approach to diabetes.


Measuring in Grams

Grams are a small unit of measurement that help you accurately measure your carbohydrate intake. Weighing a food will not tell you how many carbs it contains because most foods are not composed of pure carbs. In order to calculate carbohydrate grams, you must know the weight of the food and the percentage of carbs it contains.

Using Food Labels

This is the easiest carb-counting method. Check the serving size on the label. (If you decide to eat more than the serving size, double or triple the number on the label.) Then look for the grams of total carbohydrate. This number will include carbohydrate from sugar, starch, and fiber. If you have a limit on carbohydrate intake, this number will tell you the amount you can eat and the portion size to match.


General Carb Amounts

Many foods don’t have labels, yet they still contain carbohydrates. One carbohydrate serving is equal to 15 grams of carbohydrates. Here is a sampling of items with one carbohydrate serving:

  • 1/3 cup rice or pasta
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 slice of bread
  • 1 small fruit
  • 1/4 large baked potato
  • 1/2 cup ice cream

Source: American Diabetes Association

Photo by John Nyboer


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