Make Your Carbs Count!

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Having diabetes doesn’t mean you have to follow a low-carb diet or avoid carbohydrate foods. It is true that the carbohydrate you eat is the biggest factor affecting blood glucose after meals. However, research shows that many types of eating patterns can work for managing diabetes, and carbohydrate foods can be worked into an overall healthy meal plan. You’ll want to work with your healthcare provider to decide on how many carbs per meal is best for you.
When you choose which carbohydrate foods to include, fill your plate with those that are high in fiber, vitamins, and minerals. The best carbohydrate choices include:

  • Fresh, frozen, or canned fruit without added sugars
  • Whole grains such as 100% whole wheat bread, brown rice, oatmeal, quinoa, and whole grain barley
  • Starchy vegetables such as potatoes, winter squash, pumpkin, green peas, corn, parsnips, and plantains
  • Beans, legumes, and peas
  • Non-fat dairy such as 1% milk, skim milk, and non-fat yogurt

Non-starchy vegetables such as leafy greens, tomatoes, and carrots, have about 5 grams of carbohydrate in ½ cup cooked or 1 cup raw (though this can vary). Most of the carbohydrate in non-starchy vegetables is fiber. So unless you eat more than 1 cup of cooked or 2 cups of raw non-starchy veggies at one time, you may not need to count the carbohydrates from the non-starchy vegetables in your plan. When choosing sources of carbohydrate for your meal plan, focus on the foods listed above. Limit carbohydrate foods that have a lot of added sugar, salt, and fat. This is what we mean when we say to Make Your Carbs Count! Here is a list of less healthy carbohydrate foods to watch:

  • Soda and other sugary drinks (It is best to avoid these all together and stick to zero-calorie beverages like water and unsweetened tea.)
  • Refined grain foods such as white bread, white rice, many crackers, pastries, and sugary cereals
  • Chips, pretzels, and similar salty snacks
  • Sweets and desserts

Some Tips to Remember

It is important to choose healthy carbohydrate foods, stick to your meal plan, and control portions. Remember that even nutritious carbohydrate sources will raise blood glucose. A good way to control carb intake is to use our Diabetes Plate to plan meals. This can be helpful tool to keep your carb intake consistent.

When it comes to choosing grains, we recommend trying to make half your grains whole – if not more! There are three parts of a grain, and a whole grain includes all three: the bran, germ and endosperm (starchy part).  A refined grain (or non-whole grain) has been stripped of one or more parts. You can find a list of the best starchy vegetables and whole grains on There are many options to choose from. Here are some ways to incorporate more whole grains and healthy carbs into your day:

  • For lunch, try a whole grain salad mixed with some beans, vegetables, and a lean source of protein (like chicken or tuna). A few grains that you’ll find in stores now are brown rice, wild rice, farro, barley, bulgur, and quinoa. Dried whole grains such as these are the least processed grain products out there! Read more about how to make a healthy grain salad.
  • Instead of white or refined grain products, buy those with a whole grain listed as the first ingredient. (i.e. Check labels on crackers, tortillas, pita bread, pasta etc.)
  • When buying bread, buy varieties that say 100% whole wheat on the package.
  • Make a chili or stew with beans, lentils, or peas for the carb source – these also add some lean protein to your day! You could also try adding brown rice or wild rice.
  • As a side, skip the potato chips, pretzels, and rice mixes. Instead, choose a starchy veggie like roasted potatoes or corn on the cob.
  • For snacks, replace processed snacks with fruit and nuts, fresh veggies and hummus, 100% whole grain crackers and low fat cheese stick.
  • Instead of eating sweetened yogurt, try some fruit with plain non-fat Greek yogurt.
  • If you normally eat sugary cereal for breakfast, try eating an unsweetened cereal and add some fruit in. Or, try out some plain oatmeal and add flavor by mixing in nuts, dried fruit, and cinnamon.
  • Instead of cookies or ice cream for dessert, curb your sweet tooth with piece of your favorite fruit.

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