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Carbs Count When Managing Diabetes

Making smart choices about what you eat and drink is important for managing diabetes. Counting carbohydrates (“carbs”) is one way to do that.

Woman in grocery store, looking at food items on a shelf

To count carbs, you add up all the carbs you consume in foods and beverages. The goal is to keep the total for a meal or snack within a target range, which you’ve set with your diabetes care team. On a day-to-day basis, this can help you better manage your blood sugar levels. If you take insulin, it may also help you decide how much to take.

Looking at the big picture, better diabetes control can help you stay healthier for longer. So, although it may take some time and effort to learn how to count carbs, the payoff is well worth it.

Why every carb counts

Carbs are one of the 3 main nutrients found in food, along with proteins and fats. Inside the body, carbs turn into blood sugar. So, carb-rich foods affect your blood sugar levels more than other foods do. Foods and beverages that contain carbs include:

  • Grains and grain-based foods, such as bread, pasta, and rice

  • Starchy vegetables, such as potatoes, corn, and peas

  • Fruit juices and fruits, such as apples, oranges, and bananas

  • Legumes, such as dried beans and lentils

  • Dairy products, such as milk and yogurt

  • Sweets, such as cakes, cookies, and candy

  • Sugary drinks, such as sodas, fruit drinks, and sports drinks

The amount of carbs you need depends on your weight, activity level, and diabetes medicines. Work with a registered dietitian or diabetes professional to set a carb goal that is right for you. As a general rule, most women with diabetes should get about 45 to 60 grams of carbs per meal. Most men with diabetes should get about 60 to 75 grams per meal.

It’s easy(ish) as 1, 2, 3

To count carbs, follow these steps before a meal or snack:

  1. Determine how many servings of a food or beverage you plan to consume. Look at the food label to find out how much one serving is. For foods without a label, use an app, website, or book as a guide.

  2. Determine the grams of total carbohydrate per serving. You can also find this information on the food label (or in the app, website, or book).

  3. Multiply the two numbers. This tells you how many grams of carbs you will get if you consume the amount you had planned. If the number is too high, you can always adjust your eating plans as needed.

Why bother? Better blood sugar control reduces your risk for diabetes-related problems, including heart disease, stroke, kidney disease, blindness, and foot amputation. So, the effort you put into counting carbs really counts for something.

Online Medical Reviewer: McDonough, Brian, MD
Date Last Reviewed: 6/1/2019
© 2000-2024 The StayWell Company, LLC. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.