Tips for Carb Counting in Tricky Situations

Measuring cups and spices

Some people who manage diabetes every day count carbohydrates. If you are not sure if you have to count carbohydrates, speak with your local dietitian (RD or RDN) or certified diabetes educator (CDE) to find out what meal plan works best for you and what foods will work best with your medications. If you do need to count carbs, these quick tips will help guide you - especially when you eat out.

The Basics

If you don't have a measuring cup or spoon handy, use your hands! Keep these simple tricks in mind:

  • In your own kitchen, make a fist and compare it to the size of a measuring cup. Is your fist the same size as one cup? A half cup? Keep this in mind when you eat out. Hold your fist up next to the food so you can guess how much of the food is on your plate.
  • While you are still in your kitchen, hold out your hand and pour in 1 ounce of food. Look at how much of the food fills your hand. Try the same thing with 1/2 cup of food. Once you have an idea of how much an ounce or a half cup of food is in your hand, you can use your hand to measure foods outside the home.
  • Need to measure a teaspoon? Usually the space between the tip of your thumb and the first knuckle is about the same size as a teaspoon.
  • How about a tablespoon? Usually the space between the tip of your thumb and the second knuckle is about the size of a tablespoon.

Below are some common foods you might eat every day, along with the usual serving size and the number of carbohydrate grams to expect. Read this article for even more examples.

  • 1/2 cup of canned or frozen fruit = 15g Carbohydrate
  • 1/2 cup of cooked oatmeal = 15g Carbohydrate
  • 1 cup of pasta or rice = 45g Carbohydrate
  • 1/2 cup of beans, legumes, or starchy vegetables = 15g Carbohydrate
  • 1 tablespoon of syrup, jam, jelly, sugar, or honey = 15g Carbohydrate

Mixed Dishes

It can be hard to know how much of different types of foods are in mixed dishes such as casseroles. To guess how many carbohydrates are in a mixed dish, try to break it down by its ingredients. When you look at your plate, do you see mostly meat, nonstarchy vegetables, or starches (such as pasta, rice, or potatoes)? Once you guess how much of each type of food is in the dish, think about how many carbohydrates are in the portion size. And don't forget – all casseroles go great with a side of nonstarchy vegetables!


During the holidays, you might need to choose between several different desserts at a dinner or party. Below are some common holiday desserts with their carbohydrate counts:

  • 1 piece pumpkin pie (1/8 of an 8-inch pie) – about 25 grams carbohydrate
  • 1/2 cup fruit cobbler – 30-45 grams of carbohydrate
  • small, unfrosted brownie (1 1/4-inch square) – about 15 grams of carbohydrate
  • 3 gingersnaps – about 15 grams of carbohydrate
  • frosted cake (2-inch piece) – about 30 grams carbohydrate
  • 1 small frosted cupcake – about 30 grams of carbohydrate
  • 1/2 cup regular pudding – 30 grams carbohydrate
  • 1/2 cup sugar-free pudding – 15 grams carbohydrate

Whenever you can, try to eat healthier sweets that have ingredients such as fresh fruit, low-fat dairy, or whole grains. For example:

  • 1/3 cup of apple, pear, or berry crisp made with fresh fruit
  • 1/3 cup pudding made with skim milk and topped with fresh berries
  • 2 small chocolate-covered strawberries

Remember, with a little planning, you can have a small serving of your favorite dessert during the holiday season and still manage your diabetes!

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