Understanding Carbohydrate Counting

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When your doctor tells you that you have diabetes, you might be aware that it has something to do with your blood glucose, but do you know how to manage it via your diet? Carbohydrate counting is a handy tool to help you plan meals and keep your blood glucose numbers within a healthy range each day.

What Foods Have Carbohydrates?

Foods that have carbohydrates are digested in the body and broken down to glucose. Glucose is the fuel preferred by the brain and used throughout the body for energy. It is important that you eat carbohydrates every day and balance your carbohydrate intake with insulin (whether you take it, or your body makes it) in order to regulate your blood glucose levels. Carbohydrates are found in the following foods:

  • Grains, such as bread, rice, cereal, and pasta
  • Starchy vegetables, such as corn, peas, beans, lentils, and potatoes
  • Dairy, such as milk, yogurt, and cheese
  • Fruit, such as fresh, frozen and canned fruits, and juice
  • Sweets and treats, such as muffins, candy, cake, and ice cream

How Do I Count Carbohydrates?

Carbohydrates are counted by “choices.” Each choice contains 15 grams of carbohydrate. Although the portion size may differ between choices, all choices have the same amount of carbohydrates. For instance, one slice of bread has the same number of carbohydrates as ½ cup of corn or one cup of berries. Reading food labels and measuring portion sizes will help you to learn how many carbohydrate choices you are getting from a food.

How Many Carbohydrate Choices Can I Have in a Day?

Depending on your blood glucose numbers, your medications, and your gender, a Certified Diabetes Educator or Registered Dietitian may recommend anywhere from 9-15 carbohydrate choices per day. These should be spread out throughout your meals and snacks. If you use diabetes medications at the same time each day, it may be important for you to have the same amount of carbohydrates at the same time each day. If not, then you will need to track how many carbohydrate choices you are eating for the correct dosage of your medications at mealtimes.

Are Some Carbohydrate Choices More Nutritious Than Others?

Yes. Choosing nutrient-dense carbohydrates — those that contain vitamins, minerals, fiber, and possibly other macronutrients such as protein and fat — will nourish your body, keep you feeling fuller longer, and help you to keep your blood glucose numbers steady. Eating whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and dairy products most often, while only occasionally choosing sweets and treats, is the key to living a healthy life with diabetes.

By Beth Rosen, MS, RD, CDN

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