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Counting carbohydrates

Alternate Names

Carb counting

Nutrients and Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates are found in fruit, cereal, bread, pasta, and rice. They are quickly turned into a sugar called glucose in your body. This raises your blood sugar level.

People with diabetes can control their blood sugar better if they can count how many carbohydrates they eat.

Your dietitian will teach you a technique called "carb counting."

Types of Carbohydrates

Your body turns carbohydrates into energy. There are two major types: simple and complex.

Simple carbohydrates are sugars found naturally in food. They can also be added to food. They include:

  • Candy
  • Fruit
  • Milk
  • Sugar-sweetened products
  • Table sugar
  • Vegetables

Complex carbohydrates have sugars that are chemically linked together. Your body breaks them down into sugar after you eat them. They are starches found in food. They include:

  • Bread
  • Cereal
  • Legumes such as beans and chick peas
  • Pasta
  • Rice
  • Starchy vegetables such as potatoes

Counting Your Carbs

Some foods, such as jelly beans, are all carbohydrates. Others, such as meat and fish, have no carbohydrates.

Most foods, even vegetables, have some carbohydrates. Most adults with diabetes should eat no more than 200 grams per day. But each person should have their own carbohydrate goal.

Packaged foods have labels that tell you how many carbohydrates a food has. They will be measured in grams. You can use food labels to count the carbohydrates you should have.

The food label will say what the serving size is. It will also tell you how many grams of carbohydrates are in a serving.

Sometimes the label will list sugar, starch, and fiber separately. The carbohydrate count for a food is the total of these. Multiply the number of servings you eat by the number of grams of carbohydrates.

You have to measure how many carbohydrates are in foods that are not packaged. Then you have to calculate the total carbohydrates in what you eat.

For example, cooked long grain rice has 15 grams of carbohydrate per 1/3 cup. If you eat a cup of cooked long grain rice, you will eat 45 grams of carbohydrates.

Foods that have 15 grams of carbohydrates are:

  • ½ cup of canned fruit (without the juice or syrup)
  • ½ cup of oatmeal
  • 1/3 cup of pasta (can vary with the shape)
  • 1/3 cup of long grain rice
  • ¼ cup of short grain rice
  • 1 cup of soup
  • 1 and ¼ cup of milk
  • ¼ servings of medium French fries

Adding up Your Carbohydrates

The total amount of carbohydrates you eat in a day is the sum of the carbohydrate counts of everything you eat.

When you are learning how to count carbs, use a log book or sheet of paper to help you track them. Over time, it will get easier to estimate your carbohydrates.

Plan to see a dietitian every year. This will help you refresh your knowledge of carb counting.

References

American Diabetes Association. Nutrition recommendations and interventions for diabetes: a position statement of the American Diabetes Association. Diabetes Care. 2008;31:S61-S78.

American Diabetes Association. Carbohydrate counting. Available at http://www.diabetes.org/food-and-fitness/food/planning-meals/carb-counting. Accessed December 8, 2012.

Updated: 12/11/2012

Nancy J. Rennert, MD, Chief of Endocrinology & Diabetes, Norwalk Hospital, Associate Clinical Professor of Medicine, Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, CT. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc., Editorial Team: David Zieve, MD, MHA, David R. Eltz, Stephanie Slon, and Nissi Wang.


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