Skip to Content

Basic Carbohydrate Counting


Carbohydrate counting is a way to plan your meals by counting the amount of carbohydrate in foods. Carbohydrates are the sugars, starches, and fiber found in fruit, grains, vegetables, and milk products. Carbohydrate counting can help you eat the right amount of carbohydrate to keep your blood sugar levels under control.


Planning your meals:

  • A dietitian or healthcare provider 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 have diabetes, 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.

Carbohydrate amounts in 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 (4 inches across and ¼ inch thick)

Carbohydrate amounts in 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 rice or pasta

Carbohydrate amounts in 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)

Carbohydrate amounts in 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

Carbohydrate amounts in 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

Carbohydrate amounts in 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

Carbohydrate amounts in 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

Carbohydrate amounts in 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

Carbohydrate amounts in 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

Use serving sizes and food labels to count carbohydrate amounts:

  • 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.
  • 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.

Follow up with your healthcare provider as directed:

Write down your questions so you remember to ask them during your visits.

© 2016 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.

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.