Carbohydrate Counting

Carbohydrate counting, or "carb counting," is one of many meal planning options for managing blood glucose levels and is most often used by people who take insulin.

Carbohydrate counting is a way to track how much carbohydrate you are eating. Working with your diabetes care team, you will decide how many grams of carbohydrate to eat for meals and snacks. With the right balance of physical activity, diabetes medication, and insulin, carb counting can help keep blood glucose levels in your target range.

How Much Carbohydrate?

How much carbohydrate you eat is very individual. Finding the right amount of carbohydrate depends on many things including how active you are and what, if any, medicines you take. People who are very active can often eat more carbohydrate. Others may need to have less carbohydrate to keep blood glucose levels in their target range. Finding the balance for yourself is important so you can feel your best, do the things you enjoy, and lower your risk of diabetes complications.

What Foods Have Carbohydrate?

Foods that contain carbohydrate or “carbs” are:

  • grains like rice, oatmeal, and barley
  • grain-based foods like bread, cereal, pasta, and crackers
  • starchy vegetables like potatoes, peas and corn
  • fruit and juice
  • milk and yogurt
  • dried beans like pinto beans and soy products like veggie burgers
  • sweets and snack foods like sodas, juice drinks, cake, cookies, candy, and chips

Non-starchy vegetables like lettuce, cucumbers, broccoli, and cauliflower have very little carbohydrate and have little impact on your blood glucose.

How Much Carbohydrate is in These Foods?

Reading food labels is a great way to know how much carbohydrate is in a food. For foods that do not have a label, you have to estimate how much carbohydrate is in it. Keeping general serving sizes in mind will help you estimate how much carbohydrate you are eating.

Protein and Fat

Protein and fat in meals are also a factor affecting blood glucose, but have less of an impact than carbohydrate. There is no method of counting protein or fat to predict how they will affect your blood glucose. 

Using Food Labels

Carbohydrate counting is easier when food labels are available. You can look at how much carbohydrate is in the portion of food you plan to eat. The two items on the label that are most useful are the serving size and the grams of total carbohydrate.

  • Look at the serving size. All the information on the label is about this serving of food. If you will be eating two or three servings, then you will need to double or triple the information on the label.
  • Look at the grams of total carbohydrate.
    • Total carbohydrate on the label includes sugar, starch, and fiber.
  • Finding the right balance of carbs, calories, and portions that will satisfy you will take time and may change over time.

Featured Book

The Complete Guide to Carb Counting, 3rd Edition

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Carb counting doesn’t have to be confusing, and it doesn’t have to be complicated. Once you learn how to count carbs, it can become second nature. The Complete Guide to Carb Counting has the latest information on carb counting and a list of the carb counts for hundreds of foods you likely eat every day.

  • Last Reviewed: October 2, 2013
  • Last Edited: July 28, 2017

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Diabetes Forecast