Diabetes is a chronic health condition that occurs when there is too much sugar or glucose in the blood.
Fortunately, with proper treatment and dietary changes, adverse health outcomes can be prevented. One diabetes meal planning technique for managing blood sugar is carbohydrate counting, which is slightly different from calorie counting.
Carb counting involves tracking carbohydrates in snacks, meals, and beverages to control blood sugar levels.
This article will discuss how to count carbohydrates for diabetes and why it helps control blood sugar levels.
Benefits of Carb Counting
The carbohydrates in the food we eat are broken down into glucose, which can lead to a spike in blood sugar. Normally, the pancreas releases insulin when blood sugar rises. Insulin is a hormone produced in the pancreas that enables blood sugar in the body’s cells to be used for energy.
In people with diabetes, the body cannot use insulin properly or produce enough insulin. This results in high levels of glucose circulating in the blood.
Why should I count carbs?
Carb counting is a flexible way to eat the foods you like while maintaining a low-carb diet. It can also help you understand how certain foods affect your blood sugar so you can match what you eat to your insulin dose.
How do the different types of insulin work?
Types of carbohydrates
The three carbohydrates found in food are:
Sugar is a simple carbohydrate, which means the body breaks it down quickly. This causes blood sugar levels to rise and fall at a very rapid rate. Sugar is naturally present in fruit and milk. It’s also often added to packaged foods like candy and soda.
Starch is naturally present in many of the foods we eat. This includes bread, pasta, rice, and certain vegetables, such as potatoes and corn.
Aim to eat whole, minimally processed starches. Whole grains provide fiber and other vitamins and minerals that are essential for good health. Try to get at least half of your daily starch intake from whole grains like brown rice, oats, and quinoa.
Fiber is a plant-based nutrient that the body cannot digest. It can help you feel full and slow down digestion. Fiber-rich foods can reduce the risk of heart disease and help control blood sugar. Good sources of fiber include whole grains, nuts, seeds, and legumes.
Do you know the difference between simple carbs and complex carbs?
Recommended carbohydrate intake
Current guidelines from the American Diabetes Association indicate that there is no accurate percentage of calories from protein, carbohydrates, or fat in the diet of people with diabetes.
However, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), most adults with diabetes should aim to get half their daily calories from carbohydrates.
This means that if you eat 1800 calories per day, 800-900 calories should come from carbohydrates. There are four calories per gram of carbs, so you need about 200-225 grams of carbs per day.
The main goal of carbohydrate counting is to keep blood sugar levels stable by evenly distributing total daily carbohydrate intake between meals.
What is the correct intake of carbohydrates?
Most adults with diabetes aim to consume 45-60 grams of carbohydrates per meal and 15-30 grams of carbohydrates per snack.
Are you eating a certain number of carbohydrates each day?
carbohydrate content in food
For the diabetes meal plan, one serving of carbohydrates is equivalent to 15 grams of carbohydrates.
Here are some foods that contain about 15 grams of carbohydrates:
- 1 slice of bread
- ⅓ cup pasta or rice
- 2 rice cakes
- ½ cup oatmeal
- 1 cup low-fat milk
- ⅔ cup light yogurt
- ½ cup juice
- ½ cup beans
- 3 cups raw vegetables
- Half a potato or similar portion of other starchy vegetables
Non-starchy vegetables, including carrots, asparagus, and leafy greens like broccoli and spinach, are much lower in carbohydrates than starchy vegetables. For example, half a cup of cooked broccoli contains only 5 grams of carbohydrates.
Protein and fat sources do not contain enough carbohydrates to count towards your daily intake. However, they must be included in every meal to slow the absorption of glucose into the blood and provide you with energy.
Diabetic Snacks of 200 Calories or Less
The following sample meal plan provides approximately 1,800 calories. It is divided into 40-60 grams of carbohydrates per meal and 15-30 grams of carbohydrates per snack. The carbohydrate content of each food is listed in parentheses.
Meal Plan Recommendations
- 2 slices whole wheat toast (30g)
- 1 tablespoon peanut butter (3 grams)
- 1 medium banana (30g)
Total Carbs: 63 grams
- ½ cup low-fat cottage cheese (4 g)
- 1 small orange (15g)
- 20 almonds (6 grams)
Total Carbs: 25 grams
- 4 ounces grilled fish (0 grams)
- 1 cup brown rice (45 grams)
- ¼ cup shredded cheese (0 g)
- 1 cup steamed broccoli (6 grams)
- 1 tablespoon margarine (0 grams)
Total Carbs: 51 grams
- 2 rice cakes (15g)
- 1 cup low-fat milk (15 grams)
Total Carbs: 30 grams
- 1 cup baby spinach (1 g)
- 1 hard boiled egg (0g)
- 3 ounces cooked chicken breast (0 grams)
- 2 tablespoons crumbled blue cheese (1 gram)
- 2 tablespoons ranch dressing (2 grams)
- 3 tablespoons croutons (15 grams)
- ¾ cup potato soup (15 g)
- 2-inch brownie cubes (15g)
Total Carbs: 49 grams
The best breakfast if you have diabetes
How to Start Carb Counting
Here are some tips to help you start counting carbs.
Learn how to read food labels
The Nutrition Facts label on most foods will tell you how many carbohydrates are in a serving. This means that if you eat more than the serving size, you need to consider the extra carbs.
For example, if a bag of chips contains two servings per bag, one serving equals 15 grams of carbohydrates. If you eat the whole bag of chips, you’ll eat two of them, or 30 grams of carbs.
You don’t have to worry about added fiber and sugar content, as they are already included in the total carbohydrate content listed on food labels.
When you first start counting carbs, it’s important to accurately count carbs from all food sources.
Measuring serving sizes greatly improves accuracy and helps you become familiar with serving sizes. For some foods, you may find it helpful to use a food scale for accurate measurements.
keep a food diary
To make it easier to understand your carbohydrate intake, try keeping a food journal. This is a great tool to help you track your carb intake. It can also help you learn more about your eating patterns and help you identify foods that negatively affect your blood sugar levels.
Some people opt for a pen and paper food journal, while others find it easier to use an app or take notes on their phone.
Carbohydrate Counting and Tablet Meal Planning for Type 2 Diabetes
Talk to a nutritionist
If you want to start counting carbs but aren’t sure if it’s right for you, consider meeting with a registered dietitian. A nutritionist can answer any questions you may have and work with you to create a meal plan based on your food preferences, budget, and personal carbohydrate needs.
You can find a registered dietitian near you by visiting the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics website and entering your zip code under Find a Nutrition Specialist.
Alternatively, you can learn more about carb counting by visiting the American Diabetes Association or downloading a carb counting app such as Carb Manager, MyFitnessPal, or MyPlate Calorie Counter.
Counting carbohydrates is a proven way to promote blood sugar control (manage blood sugar levels). It involves setting a daily carb goal in grams and dividing the number throughout the day by,
For best results when counting carbohydrates, choose high-quality carbohydrates and avoid processed foods. The goal is to choose carbohydrates that are more nutrient-dense, including vitamins, fiber, and minerals. Pair them with lean protein, non-starchy vegetables, and healthy fats for a balanced diet.
If you have diabetes, carb counting is a great tool for learning about portion control and managing your blood sugar. If you decide to start counting carbs, it’s important to grace yourself throughout the process and avoid getting too obsessed with numbers.
If you are newly diagnosed and have not received individualized dietary education, it is best to speak with a registered dietitian or certified diabetes educator. If you’re not sure where to find a registered dietitian, talk to your primary healthcare provider and they can refer you to one.
Frequently Asked Questions
How many calories should come from carbohydrates per day?
According to the CDC, people with diabetes should get about half of their daily calories from carbohydrates. If you eat 1,800 calories per day, about 900 of those calories should come from carbohydrates.
Does your blood sugar rise even if you don’t eat any carbs?
Yes. During times of stress, your body releases the stress hormone cortisol. When cortisol levels are high, your body cannot respond appropriately to insulin. This can cause blood sugar levels to rise.
What are the best snacks for diabetics?
Popcorn, Greek yogurt, and hard-boiled eggs are excellent on-the-go snacks for people with diabetes. Raw vegetables are also a good option with hummus.