Allison Marshall, MS, RD, CDN, CDE

When you have diabetes, keeping your blood sugar under good control can help you feel better and minimize diabetes-related complications. One of the most effective ways to do this is through carbohydrate counting (AKA “carb” counting), a flexible meal planning tool that can help you incorporate most of your favorite foods into a nutritious and delicious meal plan that can actually help keep your diabetes under good control. To get started on carb counting, read on!

Why count carbohydrates? 

Carbohydrates in foods are digested into glucose and absorbed into the bloodstream, causing blood sugar levels to increase. While carbohydrates are an essential part of your diet for energy and nutrients, it is important to plan or “count” the carbohydrates you eat to manage your blood sugar.

Which foods contain carbohydrates?

  • Fruits and juices
  • Sugary beverages
  • Milk and yogurt
  • Sweets and desserts 

 How many carbohydrates should people with diabetes eat? The amount of carbohydrates you need depends on your height and weight, physical activity level, current blood sugar levels/targets, and weight management goals. Overall, most people should consume a minimum of 130 grams of carbohydrates per day, spaced out evenly over regular meals and/or snacks throughout the day. For example, your registered dietitian or certified diabetes educator may suggest somewhere in the range of 30 to 75 grams of carbohydrates in a meal and 15 to 30 grams of carbohydrates in snacks.

How do I find out how many grams of carbohydrates are in the foods I eat?

One of the best resources for carbohydrate counting is food labels.  The most important information to look at is the serving size and total carbohydrate grams per serving.  You can then compare your portion to the serving size listed and calculate the grams of carbohydrates in your portion.  For example, if the serving size says 1 slice of bread equals 15 grams of total carbohydrates and you eat 2 slices of bread, you are consuming 30 grams of carbohydrates. Other good resources include carbohydrate counting and food composition books as well as websites, such as Calorie King and Eat Right.

What about “Sugar-free” and “No Sugar Added” foods?

Remember that even though these foods have no sugar added to them they may still contain large amount of carbohydrates, so remember to read your food labels and control your portion size.  For example, sugar-free apple pie has carbohydrates from the pie crust and apples, and sugar-free pudding has carbohydrates from the milk.

So which carbohydrates are healthiest?

The following foods are higher in fiber and may help control blood sugar levels:

Fresh fruit

  • Fresh or frozen vegetables
  • Whole grain versions of bread, cereals, and pasta
  • Beans, oats and brown rice
  • Regular and sweet potatoes

What should I eat with my carbohydrates?

Carbohydrates should be spaced out regularly and evenly throughout the day, and should be balanced with lean sources of protein and small amounts of heart healthy fats.  You should also drink plenty of water with meals, as well as between meals to stay hydrated and control hunger.