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Carbohydrate Counting for Diabetics

Carbohydrate Counting for Diabetics

There are several different ways people with diabetes can manage their food intake to keep their blood glucose (sugar) within their target range and one such method is 'carbohydrate counting'. Carbohydrate, or carb counting is a method of calculating grams of carbohydrate consumed at meals and snacks. Foods that contain carb have the greatest effect on blood glucose compared to foods that contain protein or fat. Before starting any new treatment or meal plan, you should always consult with your diabetes care professional.

What are the benefits of counting carbs?

·   Counting carbohydrates is a good solution for many people with diabetes. Once you learn how to count carbs, you’ll find it easier to fit a wide variety of foods into your meal plan, including combination foods such as those in frozen dinners. For example, by checking the grams of total carbohydrate on the Nutrition Facts label  on a frozen dinner, you can figure out how to fit the dinner into your carb allotment for a particular meal.  Many people find carb counting to be much easier than using a more traditional exchange meal plan.

·   Another benefit of counting carbohydrates is that it can bring tighter control over your glucose readings. Being as precise as possible with your carb intake and medication will help you better manage your blood glucose after meals.  

·   Lastly, if you take mealtime insulin, counting carbohydrates allows you to decide how much carb you want to eat at a meal, rather than having to eat a certain amount of carbohydrates, even if you do not want to.

Who can use carbohydrate counting?

Carbohydrate counting can be used by anyone with diabetes, not just people taking insulin.

This method is also useful for people who are using more intensive methods of adjusting insulin to control diabetes. The amount of meal and snack carbohydrate is adjusted based on the pre-meal blood glucose reading. Depending on the reading, more or less carbohydrate may be eaten. Likewise, insulin may be adjusted based on what the person wants to eat. For example, if you want to eat a much larger meal than usual, carb counting can help you determine how much extra insulin to take.

The following is an explanation of how to use carbohydrate counting. Print these pages and discuss them with your nurse educator, dietitian or physician at your next visit.

Tools of the Trade

1.      The first step in carb counting is to have a meal plan.  A meal plan is a guide that helps you figure out how much carb, protein and fat to eat at meals and snacks each day.  If you don’t have a meal plan, meet with a registered dietitian.

2.      Step two involves learning which foods contain carbohydrate. Most people know that starchy foods, such as bread, pasta and cereal contain carbs.  But other food   groups, such as fruit, milk and desserts and sweets, have carbs, too. 
There are three main ways to learn about carbs in foods:

o       Ask for a food choice list from your dietitian.

o       Learn how to read the Nutrition Facts Label

o       Purchase a food counts book that provides the number of grams of carb in various foods.

3.      Measuring tools.  In order to accurately count carbs, you’ll need to be accurate with the portion sizes of foods that you eat.  Invest in a food scale to weigh foods such as fruit and bread.  Use measuring cups to measure cereal, pasta and rice, and use liquid measuring cups for carb-containing beverages such as milk, juice and energy drinks.


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