If you love to eat -- who doesn’t? -- and you have to watch your blood sugar, managing your carb intake and planning meals can be real a headache. Carbohydrate counting, a method based on portion sizes, is simpler and easier than counting the carbohydrate grams in each and every bite of food you eat.
A carb count tracks the carbs you eat with a goal of keeping your intake consistent every day. The amount of carbs in a slice of bread -- 15 grams -- is the frame of reference for one serving. Foods are grouped by type -- grains, vegetables, milk and fruits -- in portion sizes that equal one serving. You choose the food you want to eat based on this. For example, you might have four carb choices -- or 60 grams carb -- for lunch. You can eat four foods so long as each provides 15 grams of carbohydrates. A typical lunch might be: a sandwich with two slices of bread, where each represents one carb choice; 8 ounces of fat-free milk for the third carb choice; and a small orange for the fourth carb option. If you decide on only half a sandwich, subtract one carb choice for the uneaten bread, leaving you free to choose another carb serving, such as ½ cup of cooked corn.
Portion Size Importance
To become adept at carb counts, learn to be a portion-size sleuth. With practice, you can train yourself to recognize a measured portion size using familiar plates, cups and bowls. Food labels can also help you count carb choices. Check the serving size listed and the grams of carb that a serving contains. Divide the number of grams by 15; the result is the number of carb servings the food contains. For example, if an ounce of cereal contains 30 grams of carbohydrate, dividing that by 15 tells you it contains two carb choices.
Counting carb grams is another way you can monitor your carb intake. To do this, just tally the total grams contained in the foods you eat at each meal. You'll need to know the carb content of foods, which takes memorization. For example, if your meal plan calls for a 45-gram carbohydrate breakfast, choose 8 ounces of orange juice, which has 26 grams of carbs; two slices buttered toast, which has 30 grams of carbs; and one hard-boiled egg, which is carb free. Because this meal totals 56 grams -- 26 + 30 + 0 -- you will need to cut back 11 grams to stay under your 45-gram limit. You can do this easily by only drinking half a cup of orange juice.
Which to Choose?
You can use either of these two methods to count your carbs; however, tracking individual grams is more tedious and time-consuming than counting carb choices. Both require you to become familiar with foods that contain carbs. The carb-count approach is simpler because it groups foods of similar carb content. It takes more effort to learn the specific carb content of individual foods. Seek the guidance of a registered dietitian if you need additional help with carb counting.
- Clinical Diabetes: Carbohydrate Counting: A Practical Meal-planning Option for People With Diabetes
- Clinical Diabetes: Carbohydrate Counting: The Basics
- American Diabetes Association: Food and Fitness; Carbohydrate Counting
- Joslin Diabetes Center: Carbohydrate Counting 101
- American Dietetic Association: Carbohydrate Counting for People With Diabetes
- Understanding Nutrition; Ellie Whitney and Sharon Rady Rolfes
- U.S. Department of Agriculture: National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference
Sue Roberts began writing in 1989. Her work has appeared in such publications as “Today’s Dietitian” and "Journal of Food Science." Roberts holds a Bachelor of Science in nutrition from Pennsylvania State University, a Master of Public Health in nutrition from the University of Minnesota and a Master of Science in food science from Michigan State University. She is a registered dietitian and certified nutritionist.