Diabetes and Counting Carbs

How to Count Carbs to Better Manage Blood Glucose Levels

Counting carbs is just one way of managing your food intake when you have diabetes, either type 1 diabetes or type 2 diabetes.  It can help keep your blood sugars as close to normal as possible. The reason that we focus on carbohydrate is because carbohydrates tend to have the greatest effect on your blood glucose levels.

If you are counting carbs, you will be following a meal plan given to you by your health care team that will tell you how many grams of carbohydrate you may eat for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and any snacks that you are allowed.

Carb counting can be used whether you have type 1 diabetes or type 2 diabetes.

It allows you a greater choice in what you eat.  For example, you want to microwave a frozen low-calorie, low-fat entrée at the office for lunch. You look on the package label for the number of carbohydrates in the dish and although you need to always be aware of the calories or fat grams that you are consuming, this time you're mainly interested in the carb grams as you have an allotted amount for each meal and each snack.

Just add the carbohydrate grams of this entree to any other carbs you're also eating for this lunch. You can get the various carb counts of different foods from a food exchange list or you can purchase a carbohydrate guide at most book stores.

What Are Carbohydrates?

Most carbohydrates we eat come from three food groups: bread/starch, fruit, and milk, and to a lesser degree, non-starchy vegetables. Foods in the protein and fat groups contain very little, if any, carbohydrates. To make counting easy, figure one serving of bread/starch, fruit, or milk contains 15 grams of carbohydrate. One serving of non-starchy vegetables contains 5 grams.

A Carb Counting Example

Let's say that you are on a 1,500 Calorie Meal Plan.

That would be spread out over the day as 52 grams of carbohydrate for breakfast, 60 grams of carbohydrate for lunch, 60 grams of carbohydrate for dinner, and 22 grams of carbohydrate for an afternoon or evening snack.

For example, for lunch, you want to have a turkey sandwich on rye bread with some low-fat mayonnaise, Dijon mustard, a slice of non-fat Swiss cheese, a slice of tomato, and a few leaves of lettuce.

The 2 slices of rye bread contain 30 grams of carbohydrates, the slice of turkey and the cheese contain 0 carbohydrates, the slice of tomato would at most contain 1 gram of carbohydrate, and the lettuce is a free food. The mayo and the mustard are also 0 carbohydrate. That leaves you with 29 grams of carbohydrate for the rest of your lunch.

You decide to add a small fresh peach (15 grams carbohydrates), pitted and sliced to eat with 3/4 cup of non-fat plain yogurt (12 grams carbohydrates).

That uses up 58 grams of your 60 gram carbohydrate allowance for that meal. It's unlikely that you will always hit the number exactly, but this is a quite filling lunch and if you go over by 2 grams the next meal, you won't have to worry.

As with any form of meal planning, portion control and knowing how many grams of carbohydrates are in a serving of each food that you want to eat is key to good control.

For someone new to this, a copy of a Food Exchange List is essential. In the beginning, you may need to measure or weigh your portions. However, if your are using one of our diabetic recipes or a diabetic recipe from another source, just look at the recipe analysis and add up the grams of carbohydrate for every recipe you're using for that meal, adding any carbohydrates you eat from non-recipe foods.

To help you keep track of your carbohydrates, we suggest a simple food log. Take a look at the basic one below, and feel free to copy it to get you started on keeping track of your carbohydrates.

Sample Food Log for People with Diabetes


Fasting Blood Sugar:

Grams of Carbohydrates





Bedtime Blood Sugar:  

Carb counting is easy.  It just takes a little practice, and it will help you better manage your diabetes.

Updated on: March 22, 2013