Basic Carbohydrate Counting

What is carbohydrate counting?

Carbohydrate counting is a way to plan your meals by counting the amount of carbohydrate in foods. It can help you eat the right amount of carbohydrate to keep your blood sugar levels under control.

What meal plan is right for me?

  • A dietitian or caregiver will help you develop a healthy meal plan that works best for you. You will be taught how much carbohydrate to eat or drink for each meal and snack. Your meal plan will be based on your age, weight, usual food intake, and physical activity level. If you are diabetic, it will also include your blood sugar levels and diabetes medicine. Once you know how much carbohydrate you should eat, you can decide what type of food you want to eat.

  • You will need to know what foods contain carbohydrate and how much they contain. Keep track of the amount of carbohydrate in meals and snacks in order to follow your meal plan. Do not avoid carbohydrates or skip meals. Your blood sugar may fall too low if you do not eat enough carbohydrate or you skip meals.

What are some of the foods that contain carbohydrate?

  • Breads: Each serving of food listed below contains about 15 grams (g) of carbohydrate .

    • 1 slice of bread (1 ounce) or 1 flour or corn tortilla (6 inch)

    • ¼ of a bagel (about 1 ounce)

    • 1 pancake (about 4 inches across and ¼ inch thick)

  • Cereals and grains: Serving sizes of ready-to-eat cereals vary. Look at the serving size and the total carbohydrate amount listed on the food label. Each serving of food listed below contains about 15 g of carbohydrate .

    • ¾ cup of dry, unsweetened, ready-to-eat cereal or ¼ cup of low-fat granola

    • ½ cup of cooked cereal or oatmeal

    • ⅓ cup of cooked rice or pasta

  • Starchy vegetables: Each serving of food listed below contains about 15 g of carbohydrate .

    • ½ cup of corn, green peas, sweet potatoes, or mashed potatoes

    • ¼ of a large baked potato

    • 1 cup of winter squash (acorn, pumpkin)

  • Beans, peas, or lentils: Each serving of food listed below contains about 15 g of carbohydrate .

    • ½ cup of beans and peas (garbanzo, pinto, kidney, white, split, black-eyed)

    • ⅔ cup of lima beans

    • ½ cup of lentils

  • Crackers and snacks: Each serving of food listed below contains about 15 g of carbohydrate .

    • 3 graham cracker squares or 8 animal crackers

    • 6 saltine-type crackers

    • 3 cups of popcorn or ¾ ounce of pretzels

  • Fruit: Each serving of food listed below contains about 15 g of carbohydrate .

    • 1 small (4 ounce) piece of fresh fruit

    • ½ cup of canned fruit, packed in natural juice, or ½ cup of fresh fruit

    • ½ cup (4 ounces) of unsweetened fruit juice

    • ¼ cup of dried fruit

  • Desserts or sugary foods: Each serving of food listed below contains about 15 g of carbohydrate .

    • 1 unfrosted brownie (2 inch square)

    • 2 small cookies

    • ½ cup of sugar-free, fat-free ice cream

  • Milk and yogurt: Foods from the milk group contain about 12 g of carbohydrate per serving.

    • 1 cup of milk

    • ¾ cup of plain, non-fat yogurt

    • 1 cup of fat-free, flavored yogurt with artificial sweetener

  • Non-starchy vegetables: Each serving contains about 5 g of carbohydrate .

    • ½ cup of cooked vegetables or 1 cup of raw vegetables. This includes beets, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, cucumber, mushrooms, tomatoes, and zucchini

    • ½ cup of vegetable juice

How do I use carbohydrate counting to plan meals?

  • Count carbohydrate amounts using serving sizes: Learn to visualize serving sizes by measuring your foods with measuring cups, measuring spoons, and a scale. A serving of any carbohydrate counts as 15 g of carbohydrate. Round up the amount of carbohydrates in milk to 15 g to make counting easier. Count the carbohydrates in non-starchy vegetables only if you eat 3 servings per meal. Three servings of non-starchy vegetables are equal to 15 g. If you eat only 1 or 2 servings, do not count these carbohydrates in the total amount.

    • Pasta dinner example: Your meal plan allows you to have 60 g of carbohydrate for dinner. To figure out the amount of carbohydrate for this meal, multiply the number of servings you plan to eat by 15 g of carbohydrate per serving. For example, 1 cup of cooked pasta is equal to 3 servings of carbohydrate (about 45 g). If you eat 1 cup of cooked pasta, you would be able to eat 1 more serving of carbohydrate food (15 g), such as a slice of bread or half of a cup of peas.


  • Count carbohydrate amounts using food labels: Find the total amount of carbohydrate in foods by reading the food label. Food labels tell you the serving size of the food and the total carbohydrate amount in each serving. Find the serving size on the food label and then decide how many servings you will eat. Multiply the number of servings you plan to eat by the carbohydrate amount per serving.

    • Granola bar snack example: Your meal plan allows you to have 30 g of carbohydrate for a snack. To figure out the amount of carbohydrate for this snack, multiply the number of servings by the total carbohydrate amount listed on the food label. You plan to eat 1 package of granola bars, which contains 2 bars. According to the food label, the serving size of food in this package is 1 bar. Each serving (1 bar) contains 25 grams of carbohydrate (total carbohydrate amount listed on food label). The total amount of carbohydrate in this package of granola bars would be 50 g. Based on your meal plan, you should eat only 1 bar.

When should I contact my caregiver?

Contact your caregiver if:

  • You have questions about your diet.

  • You have high blood sugar levels during a certain time of day or almost all of the time.

  • You often have low blood sugar levels.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Discuss treatment options with your caregivers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

© 2014 Truven Health Analytics Inc. Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotes® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or Truven Health Analytics.

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