BHealthy Blog

Carb Counting

By Regina McCormick, Clinical Dietitian, Baptist Health Medical Center-Heber Springs and Ashley N. Smith, Clinical Dietitian, Baptist Health Medical Center-Stuttgart

Living with diabetes can be a challenge when it comes to making the right dietary choices, and sometimes knowing the amount of carbohydrates needed for meals and snacks can get confusing.

In the last BHealthy article, “The Truth About Carbohydrates,” we learned why carbohydrates are important for the body and about the plate method. Now that we know carbs are necessary to live, you may be thinking, “I know I need carbs, but how do I know how many I am eating?” One way to measure the amount of carbohydrates consumed is called carb or carbohydrate counting.

Carb counting is a method of calculating grams of carbohydrates consumed at meals and snacks. Carb counting is beneficial because foods that contain carbohydrates will have a greater effect on blood-sugar over foods without carbs.

There are foods that have more carbohydrates in them than others that people with diabetes need to portion control. These foods include starches such as grains, potatoes, rice, corn, beans, fruit, milk, dairy products, sweets, and sweetened drinks. When the sugar from these foods enter the bloodstream, the level of sugar in the blood will begin to rise. In type 2 diabetes, the body is resistant to the insulin that the pancreas will produce in reaction to the rise of sugar. This is why the most effective form of treatment is blood sugar consistency, which can be achieved by carb counting.

Now you may be thinking, “How do I count carbs?” Well, the answer is quite simple. Counting carbs is as simple as reading a food label or knowing a portion size. One carbohydrate choice is equal to 15 grams of carbohydrates.

The first thing to do when reading a food label is to look at the serving size. For example, if there is a bag of crackers sitting on the kitchen table, and the serving size says 1, then that whole bag is just one serving. But, if the serving size said 2, then everything in that food label must be doubled if you are planning on eating the whole bag.

For example, if there was a package of a snack food on the kitchen table and the serving size says 2, if you plan on eating the whole package, everything must be doubled. That means if the serving of carbohydrates in 1 serving is equal to 15 grams, but you ate two servings, it must be doubled. In reality, 30 grams of carbohydrates were eaten. This is one simple way to count carbohydrates.

Another example of carbohydrate counting is knowing portion sizes. Portion sizing for carbohydrate counting is simple as well. Some examples of portions for common grains are as follows: one slice of bread is one carb serving (or 15 grams of carbohydrates), half of a hamburger or hot dog bun is one carb serving, ½ cup of beans, corn, squash, and 1/3 cup of rice. Portion size for fruit includes ½ cup of frozen or canned fruit, 2 tablespoons of dried fruit, and 17 grapes. Other choices that are a 1-carbohydrate choice, or 15 grams, include 1 cup of milk, two small cookies, and a ½ cup of ice cream.

Now that we know carbohydrate counting can be simple, you may be wondering “How many do I need?” That answer is very individualized based on body size and activity level, but three carb choices per meal is a great start! An example of a meal that would have three carb choices would be: one piece of breakfast meat, one slice of whole wheat toast with margarine, one small apple, and a ½ cup of cooked cereal. See, that wasn’t so bad!

Carbohydrate counting is a great tool to combat extreme rises in glucose levels all while still enjoying all of the food groups. We hope these articles have let you in on the truth about carbohydrates and carbohydrate counting. Enjoy!