Carb Counting in Diabetes

Carbohydrate counting is part of managing your diabetes—type 1 diabetes or type 2 diabetes.  You have to watch the amount of carbs you take in because those nutrients are broken down into glucose, and you need to make sure your body can handle that glucose (either through your insulin or your other diabetes medications).

Carb counting will help you better manage your diabetes and blood glucose levels—meaning you’ll feel better on a day-to-day basis, as well as help avoid long-term diabetic complications.

This article will talk about finding that balance of the right number of carbs at the right time.

What Is a Carb?
“Carb” is short for carbohydrate. Let's momentarily enter the world of basic chemistry.  There, we find the definition of carbohydrate:

  • Carbo: containing carbon
  • Hydrate: containing water (which is hydrogen and oxygen combined—giving us H2O)

So a carbohydrate is merely a substance containing carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen.

Carbs are good because your body needs lots of carbon. Carbon is the element that is abundantly present in all living things—the backbone of all things organic. The hydrogen and oxygen also have their place in keeping you healthy.

So, we all—people with diabetes included—need meals that contain carbs such as pasta, pinto beans, and oatmeal.  They give our bodies energy.

Carb Counting Basics
To succeed at carb counting during your meals, you need to know approximately how many carbs certain food items in your meal contain.  And don’t worry, with practice, this will all become very second-nature to you.  There are general carb guidelines to know, plus there are many carb counting apps and books that can help you.

For example, you can estimate that 8 ounces of milk has 12 grams of carbs, while a bagel will be closer to 60 grams. You can keep track of some common foods in your head, but with all of the choices that are out there, you may need an app or a book that tells you the values of more foods.

To find a good carb counting app, go to the app store for your phone or device and search. Exercise caution about downloading and using apps from sources who have not yet established their reputation as diabetes experts.

As for books, the ADA Complete Guide to Carb Counting is one of the most popular carb counting reference books. However, some people prefer the shorter and portable The Official Pocket Guide to Diabetic Exchanges—especially if they eat meals out a lot. Both are published by the American Diabetes Association.

When you sit down to eat a meal, you will have a carb target that you’ve established with your physician or certified diabetes educator. On average, most people with diabetes try to limit themselves to about 50 carb grams per meal.

As you look at the foods on your plate, you will count the estimated number of carbs in the meal. Then, if you are insulin-dependent, you will administer a bolus of insulin that will help you digest those carbs and get the carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen into your body to fill their vital roles.

Carb counting will become a natural part of your life, even if it doesn’t feel like it at first.  But if you keep in mind that you’re taking good care of your diabetes and blood glucose levels, counting carbs will be easier.

Updated on: June 20, 2012