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Tips for Counting Carbs

separator Many people who have diabetes manage their food plan by counting carbohydrates, or “carb counting.”  Carbohydrates are measured in grams. They’re listed on food labels along with protein counts, fat counts, calorie counts, etc. Carbs are the foods that affect your blood sugar the most. About 90 percent of the carbohydrate you eat appears in your blood as glucose about two hours after you eat it. That’s why it’s important to learn how many carbs to include with each meal and snack that you eat. 

Like anything else that’s new to you, carb counting takes practice. The more experience you have with it, the better you get and the easier the process seems. 

Foods that are mainly carbs include

  • Grains (breads, crackers, cereal, pasta, rice)
  • Vegetables
  • Fruits
  • Dried beans
  • Milk and yogurt
  • Sweets
  • Sweeteners such as sugar, honey, syrup and molasses

If you’ve decided to use carb counting as your way to control your blood sugar, keep these tips in mind:

  • Work with your diabetes educator to figure out what the target range of your blood sugar level should be and what your total amount of carbohydrate should be at each meal and snack to keep your sugar level in that target range. Your goal may be to get about 45-75 grams of healthy carbohydrates at each meal.
  • Eat about the same amount of food each day
  • Eat at around the same times each day
  • Take your medications at about the same times each day
  • Exercise at about the same time each day

Consider getting the following tools, which can make your carb counting easier, especially in the beginning:

  • A gram scale so that you can weigh food. This is particularly helpful with foods that don’t have labels, such as fresh produce.
  • A book that lists the carb counts of all foods (ask a member of your healthcare team to recommend a good resource for you)
  • Measuring cups and spoons

Remember, you have to eat carbohydrates because they’re your main source of energy. They also provide fiber and essential nutrients. When you design your meal plans, show your diabetes educator what you like to eat, and then work with him or her to make any modifications you need to so that you’ll keep your blood sugar within your target range. 

In the beginning, you might find it helpful to keep a written record of the foods you had in each meal and the amount of carbs you had. You could also include information about your blood sugar levels and exercise. This information can help you see a trend in the way your body digests food, how much difference the exercise makes to your blood sugar levels, etc. 

Over time, these written records and your increased experience will help carb counting to seem almost like second nature. Eventually, you’ll probably get to the point that you’ll be able to look at a piece of fruit and know how many carbs it has, or you’ll be able to tell at a glance the carb count of a restaurant meal.

Journal of the American Medical Association, 1999.
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