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Carbohydrate, or carb, counting is an important skill to learn when you have diabetes. Carb counting helps you keep tight control of your blood sugar (glucose) level. It also gives you the flexibility to eat what you want. This can help you feel more in control and confident when managing your diabetes.
To count carb grams at a meal, you need to know how many carbs are in each type of food you eat. This includes all food, whether it is a slice of bread, a bowl of lettuce, or a spoonful of salad dressing. Most packaged foods have labels that tell you how many total carbs are in one serving. Carbohydrate guides can help too. You can get these from diabetes educators and the American Diabetes Association.
To find out how many carbs are in food that is not packaged, you will need to know standard portions of carbohydrate foods. Each serving size or standard portion has about 15 grams of carbs.
By using the number of grams of carbs in a meal, you can figure out how much insulin to take. This is based on your personal insulin-to-carbohydrate ratio.
For example: Your doctor may advise you to take 1 unit of rapid-acting insulin for every 10 to 15 grams of carbs you eat. So if your meal has 50 grams of carbs and your doctor says you need 1 unit of insulin for every 10 grams of carbs, you would need 5 units of insulin to keep your post-meal blood sugar from rising above your target level.
Your insulin-to-carbohydrate ratio may change over time. In some people it will change from one meal to the next. You might take 1 unit of insulin for every 10 grams of carbs for lunch but take 1 unit for every 15 grams at dinner.
Keep these tips in mind when counting carbs:
When you keep track of what you eat and you test your blood sugar after meals and exercise, you can figure out what effect protein, fat, fiber, and exercise have on the amount of insulin you need.
To count carbs and eat a balanced diet:
Your daily amount depends on several things-your weight, how active you are, what diabetes medicines you take, and what your goals are for your blood sugar levels. A registered dietitian or certified diabetes educator will help you plan how much carbohydrate to include in each meal and snack.
For most adults, a guideline for the daily amount of carbohydrate is:
Other Works ConsultedAmerican Diabetes Association (2013). Nutrition therapy recommendations for the management of adults with diabetes. Diabetes Care, 36(11): 3821-3842. DOI: 10.2337/dc13-2042. Accessed December 5, 2013.American Diabetes Association (2017). Standards of medical care in diabetes-2017. Diabetes Care, 40(Suppl 1): S1-S135. http://care.diabetesjournals.org/content/40/Supplement_1. Accessed December 15, 2016.Campbell AP, Beaser RS (2010). Medical nutrition therapy. In RS Beaser, ed., Joslin's Diabetes Deskbook: A Guide for Primary Care Providers, 2nd ed., pp. 91-136. Boston: Joslin Diabetes Center.Franz MJ (2012). Medical nutrition therapy for diabetes mellitus and hypoglycemia of nondiabetic origin. In LK Mahan et al., eds., Krause's Food and the Nutrition Care Process, 13th ed., pp. 675-710. St Louis: Saunders.
ByHealthwise StaffPrimary Medical ReviewerE. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal MedicineKathleen Romito, MD - Family MedicineAdam Husney, MD - Family MedicineSpecialist Medical ReviewerRhonda O'Brien, MS, RD, CDE - Certified Diabetes EducatorColleen O'Connor, PhD, RD - Registered Dietitian
Current as ofMarch 13, 2017
Current as of: March 13, 2017
Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review: E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine & Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine & Adam Husney, MD - Family Medicine & Rhonda O'Brien, MS, RD, CDE - Certified Diabetes Educator & Colleen O'Connor, PhD, RD - Registered Dietitian
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