Carbohydrates are the main source of energy for the body, and they can be found in breads, pastas, cereals, dairy products, legumes and sweets. As a diabetic, you need to manage the amount of carbohydrates that enter your bloodstream at a given time. Carbohydrate counting is used by diabetics to help maintain a consistent level of carbohydrates at meals and snacks to promote blood glucose balance and regulation.
The amount of carbohydrate grams you should consume depends on your estimated caloric needs, activity level and the medication or insulin you may be using. A place to start is 45 to 60 grams per meal and 15 grams per snack. A registered dietitian can determine the amount of carbohydrate grams needed per meals and snacks to meet your individual needs.
Counting Carbohydrate Grams
In the past, diabetic management consisted of dictated percentages of fat, protein and carbohydrates, which were often burdensome. Carbohydrate counting provides you with a flexible dietary regimen to manage your diabetes. The food groups contain serving sizes equivalent to 15 grams of carbohydrates. If you need 45 grams of carbohydrate per meal, you would choose three food items. Examples of these grains include a slice of bread, 1/2 cup of oatmeal or 1/3 cup of pasta. Fruits might include 1/2 cup of orange juice, a small piece of fresh fruit, 15 grapes or a small banana. Starchy vegetables would include 1/2 cup of corn or peas or one-quarter of a large baked potato. Dairy could include 1 cup of milk or 3/4 cup of plain, nonfat or low-fat yogurt. Meat and meat substitutes, fats and average servings of nonstarchy vegetables are not used in carbohydrate counting, but they should be included in the diet.
Nutrition labels provide you with the total amount of carbohydrate grams in food. This amount includes the sugar, starch and fiber in the food item. To count carbohydrates, read the serving size and the total amount of carbohydrate grams within it. For example, if the food item has 15 grams of carbohydrate per 1/2-cup serving and you need 45 grams per meal, you could either triple the serving size to 1 1/2 cups for 45 grams or add 30 more grams of other carbohydrate foods to your meal. The diet allows you flexibility in meeting your carbohydrate needs.
Additional Dietary Recommendations
Nutrition labels can also assist in meeting other dietary recommendations for diabetics. Aim for foods with the fiber content of 5 grams or more per serving. These foods take longer to digest, leading to a slower rise in blood sugar. Avoid high-sugar foods since they will spike your blood sugar. Also, reduce the amount of processed foods, saturated fats, sodium and trans fats to minimize blood glucose imbalances and disease complications.
- Krauses’s Food, Nutrition and Diet Therapy, 13th Edition; Kathleen L. Mahan et al.
- American Diabetes Association: Carbohydrate Counting
- Indiana University Health: Carbohydrate Food List