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How Many Carbs Should a Diabetic Eat in a Day?

author image Jessica Jones
Jessica Jones is a registered dietitian with a master's degree in nutrition. Jones has worked as a clinical dietitian at Kings County Hospital in Brooklyn and as a senior nutritionist for the NYC Department of Health. She currently co-hosts Food Heaven Made Easy (, a healthy cooking and nutrition webseries. The California native received a Bachelor of Arts in journalism from San Francisco State University, and has penned hundreds of articles about food, health and culture for publications like the "Village Voice," "Time Out New York," "amNew York" and "Today’s Dietitian."
How Many Carbs Should a Diabetic Eat in a Day?
Diabetic person. Photo Credit: Stockbyte/Stockbyte/Getty Images

Diabetes affects the way the body metabolizes sugar. Whether you have type 1, type 2 or gestational diabetes, paying close attention to the amount of carbohydrates you're eating is critical. With proper planning and education, a healthy diabetic diet -- which includes carbohydrates in moderation -- is just as satisfying as a regular one.

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How Many Carbs Can Diabetics Eat?

All meals contain carbs.
All meals contain carbs. Photo Credit: George Doyle/Stockbyte/Getty Images

All foods that have carbohydrates raise blood sugar levels. But some carbohydrates raise blood sugar levels more than others. By keeping track of how many carbohydrates are in foods, diabetics are better able to control their blood sugar levels and subsequently manage their diabetes. The American Diabetes Association recommends that adults with diabetes consume about 45 to 60 grams of carbohydrate per meal, which adds up to 135 to 180 grams of carbohydrates per day. Note that some individuals may need more or fewer carbohydrates. Consult a registered dietitian for an individualized recommendation.

Types of Carbohydrates

Fruits. Photo Credit: Jupiterimages/ Images

The three main type of carbohydrates include starches, sugars and fiber. Starchy foods, also known as complex carbohydrates, include peas, corn, beans, grains, whole wheat pasta, oats, barley and rice. Sugars can occur naturally -- in milk and fruit, for example -- or be added during processing. Common names for sugar include table sugar, brown sugar, honey, beet sugar and high fructose corn syrup. Fiber is the indigestible part of plant foods that passes through the intestine when you consume fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and legumes. The general recommendation is that adults consume 25 to 30 grams of fiber per day. Fiber offers an added benefit for diabetics, because it helps control blood sugar levels by slowing the release of sugar into the bloodstream after a meal.

Carbohydrate Counting 101

Cereal with fruits.
Cereal with fruits. Photo Credit: Dmitry Lobanov/iStock/Getty Images

According to the American Diabetes Association, carbohydrate counting is a technique for meal planning used to control blood glucose levels in diabetics. Before you count carbohydrates, however, know which foods contain carbs. Foods with carbohydrates include starchy offerings, like bread, cereal, rice and crackers; fruit and juice; milk and yogurt; dried beans, like pinto beans, and soy products like veggie burgers; starchy vegetables, like potatoes and corn; and sweets and snack foods, like sodas, juice drinks, cake, cookies, candy and chips. One carbohydrate exchange is equal to 15 grams of carbohydrates. Adults with diabetes should aim to consume 45 to 60 grams of carbohydrates per meal as a starting point, or three to five carbohydrate exchanges. Fats and protein don't generally affect blood sugars, and diabetics can be eat them as part of a balanced diet.

Exchange List Portions

Tortilla. Photo Credit: astrall232/iStock/Getty Images

These foods contain about 15 grams of carbohydrates, or one exchange: one small piece of fresh fruit; 1/2 cup of canned or frozen fruit; one slice of bread or one 6-inch tortilla; 1/2 cup of oatmeal; 1/3 cup of pasta or rice; four to six crackers; half an English muffin or hamburger bun; 1/2 cup of black beans or starchy vegetable; one-fourth of a large baked potato; 2/3 cup of plain, fat-free yogurt or yogurt sweetened with sugar substitutes; two small cookies; 1/2 cup ice cream or sherbet; 1 tablespoon of honey; six chicken nuggets; 1/2 cup of a casserole; 1 cup of soup; or one-fourth serving of medium french fries.

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