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Carbohydrate Counting

Carbohydrate counting (or carb counting) is simply adding up the total grams of carb in your meals and snacks. Aiming for a consistent carb intake throughout the day can help stabilize your blood sugars. A more advanced form of carb counting involves matching your mealtime insulin dose to the grams of carb you eat. This is called an insulin-to-carb ratio, which is only for those on multiple daily injections of insulin or an insulin pump.1 If you are interested in learning more about an insulin-to-carb ratio, ask your doctor, registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN/RD), or Certified Diabetes Care and Education Specialist (CDCES).

What are carbohydrates?

Carbohydrates (or carbs) are nutrients that break down into glucose when digested—your body uses glucose for energy. In fact, carbs are the body’s main source of energy! The common forms of carb are starches, sugars, and fiber.

Foods with Carbs

Starches

Beans & lentils
Bread, rolls/buns, & tortillas
Cereals
Chips, pretzels, & popcorn
Pancakes & waffles
Pasta, rice, & quinoa
Starchy vegetables, such as potatoes, peas, & corn

Fruits & fruit juices

Apples & apple juice
Bananas
Berries
Cantaloupe, honeydew melon, & watermelon
Cranberries & cranberry juice
Dried fruit
Grapefruit
Grapes & grape juice
Oranges & orange juice
Peaches & nectarines

Milk, milk substitutes, & yogurt

Fat free or lowfat milk
Flavored yogurt
Greek yogurt
Plain yogurt
Soy milk

Nonstarchy vegetables

(In small quantities, nonstarchy vegetables have a minimal impact on blood sugar.)
Asparagus
Broccoli
Cabbage
Carrots
Cauliflower
Cucumber
Green beans
Greens, lettuce, & spinach
Mushrooms
Onions
Tomatoes

Sweets & desserts

Brownies
Candy
Cake
Cookies
Ice cream
Ice pops
Pies

Because glucose circulates in your bloodstream, it is called blood glucose (or “blood sugar”). In people with diabetes, blood sugar levels are harder to control after eating carbs because of a lack of insulin and/or insulin resistance.2 This is where carb counting can help! One way to count carbs is by reading nutrition facts labels. When reading a nutrition facts label, pay attention to the following:

  1. Always look at the Serving Size first. Everything else on the label is a reflection of the serving size. For example, the serving size of the Splenda® Diabetes Care Shake shown is 1 bottle (or 237 mL). All the nutrition facts listed are based on 1 bottle. If you drink half the bottle, then you would need to divide everything else in half to understand how much you are actually getting of those nutrients.
  2. Next, look at the grams of Total Carbohydrate. This number includes the Dietary Fiber, Total Sugars, and Added Sugars. When grocery shopping, purchase carb foods with little to no added sugars and more dietary fiber as this will result in better blood sugar control. As you can see from the label, Splenda Diabetes Care Shakes contain zero added sugars and six grams of dietary fiber!

Added sugars are considered “empty calories” because they provide your body with calories but have little to no nutritional value.3 The top source of added sugars in the American diet is sugar-sweetened beverages, followed by desserts.4 The Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025 recommends limiting added sugars to less than 10 percent of calories per day. A great way to reduce added sugars in the diet is by replacing them with low- and no-calorie sweeteners like Splenda.

If your food or drink does not have a nutrition facts label available, there are many other tools to find this information, such as nutrition apps, websites, and books. For recommendations, ask your registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN/RD) or Certified Diabetes Care and Education Specialist (CDCES).

How many carbohydrates should I eat?

There is no magic number of carbohydrates that a person with diabetes should eat. Individualized meal plans are best because we are all individuals. Work with you registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN/RD) or Certified Diabetes Care and Education Specialist (CDCES) to create a meal plan determined by your age, body size, activity level, and preferences. This plan will help you understand how many carbohydrates to aim for per meal and snack.

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1 Hornick, B., & Uelmen, S. (Eds.). (2019). Choose your foods: Match your insulin to your carbs. Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, American Diabetes Association, Inc. 2 American Diabetes Association. (n.d.). Carb counting and diabetes. https://www.diabetes.org/healthy-living/recipes-nutrition/understanding-carbs/carb-counting-and-diabetes 3 Duyff, R. L. (2017). Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics complete food and nutrition guide (5th ed.). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 4 U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2020). Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025 (9th ed.). USDA, HHS.