According to the American Diabetes Association, 25.8 million children and adults in the United States have diabetes. Another 79 million people in the United States have prediabetes.   Diabetes, if uncontrolled, can lead to serious complications including Heart disease and stroke, high blood pressure, blindness, kidney disease, nervous systems disease and possibly amputation. According to the Stop Diabetes campaign through the American Diabetes Association, diabetes kills more Americans each year than AIDS and breast cancer combined.

The good news is that with proper medical treatment with a physician and closely monitoring your eating pattern with a registered dietitian, blood sugars can be in check and the risk of developing complications can decrease dramatically.

Carbohydrate counting or “carb counting” is a meal planning technique for managing blood sugar levels. Foods that contain carbohydrates raise blood sugar. By setting a limit for how many carbohydrates consumed in a setting, you can keep your blood sugars in your target range. Foods that contain carbohydrates include: starchy foods such as bread, cereal, rice, crackers, potatoes and corn; fruit and juice; milk and yogurt; dried beans; sweets and snack foods such as sodas, juice drinks, cake, cookies, candy and chips.

There is not a “one size fits all” carbohydrate guide. The number of carbohydrates needed is dependent on gender, age, size, activity level and overall health. According to the American Diabetes Association, a good place to start is about 45-60 grams of carbohydrates at a meal. Remember, you may need more or less- a registered dietitian can determine the appropriate number of carbohydrates per meal.

Carbohydrate counting is easiest when a food label is available. First look at the serving size. The information listed on the food label is usually for one serving. Next, look at the grams of total carbohydrates- this includes sugar, starch, and fiber. Ignore grams of sugar, as this is included in total carbohydrates. If your serving size is larger than what is listed on the label- do the appropriate math- double, triple, etc the grams of carbohydrates to know exactly how many you are eating.

When food labels are not available, estimation can be used to gage the number of carbohydrates in food. The following chart is from the American Diabetes Association; each example below has about 15 grams of carbohydrates:

  • 1 small piece of fresh fruit
  • 1/2 cup of canned or frozen fruit
  • 1 slice of bread or 1 6” tortilla
  • 1/2 cup of oatmeal
  • 1/3 cup of pasta or rice
  • 4-6 crackers
  • 1/2 English muffin or hamburger bun
  • 1/2 cup of black beans or starchy vegetable
  • 1/4 of a large baked potato
  • 2/3 cup of plain fat-free yogurt or sweetened with sugar substitutes
  • 2 small cookies
  • 2 inch square brownie or cake without frosting
  • 1/2 cup ice cream or sherbet
  • 1 Tbsp syrup, jam, jelly, sugar or honey
  • 2 Tbsp light syrup
  • 6 chicken nuggets
  • 1/2 cup of casserole
  • 1 cup of soup
  • 1/4 serving of a medium french fry

Carbohydrate counting may sound like a daunting task but after a little practice it will feel like second nature. For further information, please check out or talk to your physician or a registered dietitian.