Carb Counting for Diabetics: An Overview

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Eating a consistent amount of carbohydrates throughout the day is an important factor in controlling your blood glucose levels. Other key elements include regular physical activity and taking your diabetes medicine as prescribed. Remember that an overall healthy diet reduces your risk of diabetes-related conditions and portions need to be taken into account when planning your meals, not just the amount of carbohydrates.

Ratio of Carbohydrates

Finding the right ratio of carbohydrates depends on several things including how active you are and the dosage of medication you take. Discussing this with your health care team is a good first step. They can give specific instructions on your particular diet plan that will help control your blood glucose levels.

45-60 grams of carbohydrates at each meal is a general guideline. You may need more or less depending on the above factors and what goals your physician has for you as an individual. Once the level of carbs is determined, then you can adjust your food and portion size to line up with the ratio of allowed carbs.

Maintaining a balance is of utmost importance. The food you consume directly affects how you feel and lowers your risk of diabetes complications.

Types of Carbohydrates

Carb counting for diabetics is more than just a plan to cut back on starch or sugar. It is essential to do your research on the foods you love and plan your meals out ahead of time.

There are three main types of carbohydrates in food: Starch, sugar and dietary fiber, found in the following types of food:

  • Beans and legumes

  • Grains and starchy vegetables

  • Fruit

  • Dairy products

  • Desserts and snack food like chips

Foods in the meat and fat groups contain very little carbohydrate. But this does not mean they can be eaten indiscriminately. Overeating, regardless of the type of food, will cause a spike in blood sugar and needs to be brought under control. Five small meals are better than three meals to keep a stable blood sugar level.

Reading Food Labels

Reading food labels is a key step in carb counting for diabetics. The two main listings for a diabetic include the serving size and the total grams of carbohydrates.

First look at the serving size. The information listed on the label is going to be written for one serving of the food. Keep this in mind when planning your meals. It may be customary for your to eat the entire package or can of a particular food so the amounts may need to be doubled or tripled when deciding if it fits into your allotted carbohydrates.

Now look at the grams of total carbohydrate. This amount includes sugar, starch, and fiber. Knowing this number allows you to make an informed decision.

Other helpful listings include the calorie count, saturated and trans fat and sodium levels. If you need to lose weight in order to manage your diabetes closer than comparing the calories in a product is helpful. Look for those with lower calories per serving.

If you have problems with high blood pressure or are concerned about heart disease or stroke choose food items with the lowest amont of saturated and trans fat and sodium levels.

Tracking Your Carbs

There are several ways to track your carbs. Simply writing down the number of carbs you have eaten at each meal is a good place to start. Offering your physician an accurate picture of your meal plan helps keep your numbers in a good range.

While carb counting for diabetics is not a diet plan, there are numerous sites on line that offer free tracking programs. Accurately entering your food choices and exercise choices into a web site that specializes in charting progress is another way to keep track of your carb level. Programs can also be downloaded onto your phone which gives instant access to the grams of carbs in food when you are on the go. Restaurant Nutrition and Diabetes Log are free, while Islet costs a few dollars but offers graphing capabilities.


Balch, James F.M.D., Balch, Phyllis A. C.N.C., Prescription for Nutritional Healing, Avery Publishing Group,1998

Carb Counting Diet- Baptist Health Systems,

Carbohydrate Counting- Diabetes Self Management-