1-2-3’s of Diabetic Carb Counting

By Phoebe Chi, MD, MPH

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 control your blood sugar 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 post, I will discuss one of the more “advanced” methods of meal planning: the Carbohydrate Counting method. An easier (albeit less precise) method is the Create Your Plate method, so be sure to check out that post as well if you haven’t yet, along with the rest of the posts in the Diabetes Series!


Carbohydrate counting (carb counting”) — while it may take a little time to get used to—is an extremely useful as well as flexible 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”

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.

1 Carbohydrate Serving = 15 grams of carbohydrate

Women = 3-4 per meal

Men = 4-5 per meal

Below is a chart showing how to count foods that fall in the middle:


– Step 2 –
Understand Some Practical Examples

Now that you know what a Carbohydrate Serving means, let’s consider some basic foods and how they measure up:


– Step 3 –
Start Checking the Nutrition Label

  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?
  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.


– Tip –
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?



Here’s to counting your way to health!


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



*The information in this post 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.

20 thoughts on “1-2-3’s of Diabetic Carb Counting

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  1. This has been a great refresher for me. My partner has diabetes and we always try keep portion control, and different foods at the forefront of our minds as a way of assisting our bodies to keep BSL under control. Thank you for a very well written post. I enjoyed it very much, it is full of valuable information.


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