Carbohydrate-Counting Diet

What Is Carbohydrate Counting?

Carbohydrate counting is a method of keeping track of the number of carbohydrates you eat at each meal. Carbohydrates from your food get digested and absorbed as a sugar, known as glucose. Counting carbohydrates allows you to be aware of how food will affect your blood glucose. This is important if you need to manage your blood sugar levels.

Why Should I Use the Carbohydrate-Counting Method?

Carbohydrate counting is particularly useful for people who take insulin shots since it allows you to balance food intake with insulin. The more carbohydrates you eat, the higher your blood sugar will be, and the more insulin you will need. Of course, always ask your doctor before adjusting insulin doses on your own.

Carbohydrate-Counting Basics

When you eat carbohydrates, your body turns them into glucose. The foods that raise blood glucose the most are those that contain carbohydrates. Foods like starches, milk, fruit, and sweets are considered carbohydrates.Carbohydrates are often classified as simple or complex:
  • Simple carbohydrates , or sugars, include table sugar, honey, high fructose corn syrup, and the sugars found in milk and fruit. These raise blood sugar quickly.
  • Complex carbohydrates , or starches, include whole grains, starchy vegetables, and legumes.
Types of Carbohydrates Healthy Choices Foods to Limit or Avoid
Simple Carbohydrates
  • Low-fat milk and milk products
  • Fruits
  • Table sugar
  • High fructose corn syrup—This is found in soda and juice drinks. It is often added to processed foods, as well. Read the list of ingredients.
  • Honey
  • Foods high in added sugars like candy, cookies, or ice cream.
Complex Carbohydrates
  • Whole grains
  • Starchy vegetables
  • Beans
  • Lentils
Refined starches like white flour, white flour products, and white rice.

How Much Is One Serving of Carbohydrates?

One carbohydrate serving is equal to 15 grams of carbohydrate. This is about the amount of carbohydrate in one slice of bread, ¾ cup dry, unsweetened cereal, ½ cup of pasta, 1 cup of milk, or 1 small piece of fresh fruit.Since they have similar effects on your blood sugar, they can also be exchanged. This is because these foods are generally considered carbohydrate servings. For example, you may trade one starch serving for 1 fruit or milk serving.The table below gives examples of foods that have approximately 15 grams of carbohydrates per serving.
Food Group Serving Size and Type of Food
  • 1 small piece of fresh fruit
  • 1/2 cup of canned or frozen fruit
  • 4 ounces of juice
Starchy Vegetables like potatoes, sweet potatoes, corn, green peas, or green lima beans
  • 1/2 cup mashed potatoes
  • 1/4 of a large baked potato
  • 1/4 cup of peas or beans
  • 1 slice of bread
  • 3/4 cup unsweetened cereal
  • 1/4 cup granola
  • 1/3 cup rice
  • 1/3 bagel
  • 3 cups popcorn
  • 1/2 cup beans
  • 6 chicken nuggets
  • 1 cup milk
  • 2/3 cup of plain fat-free yogurt
  • 1/2 cup ice cream
Other 1 medium sugar cookie
Meats and fats generally contain little or no carbohydrate, while non-starchy vegetables contain only five grams per serving. One serving equals 1 cup raw vegetables or ½ cup cooked. Examples of non-starchy vegetables include:
  • Broccoli
  • Dark green leafy lettuce or spinach
  • Artichoke hearts
  • Asparagus
  • Celery
  • Cucumbers
  • Eggplant
Many sources provide comprehensive carbohydrate count lists. In addition, most packaged foods have labels with the carbohydrate amount.

How Much Carbohydrate Can I Eat?

Most people with diabetes should consume between 45%-65% of their calories as carbohydrates . The balance can come from fat and protein.There are 4 calories in every gram of carbohydrate. So, for example, if you are on a 2,000-calorie diet with 50% of your calories coming from carbohydrates, you can have a total of 16 servings of carbohydrate per day.
Calculating Carbohydrate Servings
(2,000 Calorie Diet)
50% of calories from carbohydrates = 1,000 calories
1,000 calories divided by 4 calories per gram of carbohydrate = 250 grams
250 grams divided by 15 grams carbohydrate per serving = 16.66 servings
How you distribute these servings will affect your blood sugar. The bottom line is that you should space out your carbohydrate servings into at least 3 meals per day, ideally with a snack in between. This frequent and steady intake of carbohydrates will keep your blood sugar steady. In addition, the more fiber the source of carbohydrates contains, the better the effect on your blood sugar.The table below shows examples of different ways that these 16 carbohydrates servings could be distributed. Keep in mind the more evenly distributed they are, the better:
Breakfast 4 4 2 3 4 3 0
AM Snack 0 2 2 2 2 1 3
Lunch 5 4 4 3 5 4 3
PM Snack 0 2 2 2 2 2 3
Dinner 5 4 4 4 3 4 4
Evening Snack 2 0 2 2 0 2 3
TOTAL CARBS 16 16 16 16 16 16 16

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