diabetes meal planning carb countingChronic Conditions

Carb Counting for Diabetes: 3 Easy Steps (with diabetes food list)

When you have diabetes, keeping your blood sugar in a healthy range is not only essential in keeping your diabetes under control, but it can help you feel your best. The easiest way to stabilize your blood sugar level is to watch your carbohydrate intake. This is because any carbohydrate food you eat (e.g., milk, fruit, bread, and pasta) is immediately digested into glucose (sugar), which causes your blood sugar level to increase. In this article, I will discuss one of the more “advanced” methods of diabetes meal planning: the “carb counting” method. A simpler method is the Diabetes Plate Method, so be sure to check out that article as well if you haven’t yet, along with the rest of the posts in the Diabetes Series!


Diabetes Carb Counting Method

When it comes to meal planning for diabetes, there are several methods you can use. This article will focus on the carbohydrate counting method.

Carbohydrate counting (carb counting”) — while it may take a little time to get used to—is an extremely useful as well as flexible diabetes meal planning tool that can help you understand how your food choices affect your blood sugar level. This post will equip you with the essentials that you need to easily start counting your way to feeling your best…every day.

– Step 1 –
Know Your “Carbohydrate Serving”

The first step to diabetes carb counting is to understand the carbohydrate serving. A Carbohydrate Serving, also called a “Carbohydrate Choice,” is simply a portion of food that contains 15 grams of carbohydrate. While women should aim to eat 3-4 carbohydrate servings per meal, men need around 4-5 carbohydrate servings per meal.

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1 Carbohydrate Serving = 15 grams of carbohydrate

Women = 3-4 per meal

Men = 4-5 per meal
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Below is a chart showing how to use diabetes carb counting for foods that “fall in the middle”

diabetes meal planning carb counting

– Step 2 –
Know Some Practical Examples of Carb Counting

Now that you know what a Carbohydrate Serving means, let’s consider some basic foods and how they measure up when using the diabetes carb counting method:

diabetes meal planning carb counting

– Step 3 –
Check the Nutrition Label to Start Counting Carbs

diabetes meal planning carb counting

  1. Find the serving size. In this example label, a serving would be 8 crackers.
  2. Ask yourself: How many servings do I plan to eat? Knowing your anticipated serving matters when doing diabetes carb counting.
  3. Locate the “Total Carbohydrate” on the label. Notice how sugars are already included in this number, so you do not need to count them separately. In our example, one serving (or 8 crackers) would have 22 grams of total carbohydrate.
  4. Convert that number to the number of carbohydrate servings. In this case, 22 grams of carbohydrates would count as 1 ½ Carbohydrate Servings. Remember, that’s for only 8 crackers. If you plan to eat two servings, that would count as 3 Carbohydrate Servings.

Estimating Portion Sizes

Another practical technique for diabetes meal planning is in estimating portion sizes. These comparisons come in handy (pun intended) when you need a quick approximation of serving amounts. How many of these do you already know?

diabetes meal planning portions

portion4

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For a printable, comprehensive Diabetes Food List, click below:

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*The information presented in “Diabetes Meal Planning: Carb Counting Made Easy” can be found in Being Empowered for a Healthy Heart: A personal guide to taking control of your health while living with chronic conditions, by Phoebe Chi, MD, MPH.


Phoebe Chi, MD, MPH
Phoebe Chi, MD, MPH

As a physician, author, and managing editor of PhoebeMD: Medicine + Poetry, Dr. Chi aims to inspire, educate, and empower the reader community. With a focus on health promotion and disease prevention, Dr. Chi has developed chronic disease management programs aimed at reducing hospitalizations and enhancing the quality of life for those living with chronic conditions. She is the author of Being Empowered for a Healthy Heart: A personal guide to taking control of your health while living with chronic conditions and the founder of Pendants for a Cause–a nonprofit organization that creates handcrafted sea glass jewelry for the purpose of raising funds to fight illness and provide care to medically vulnerable populations around the world.


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