Carb Counting Basics for
Diabetes Control

Written by
Published in March 2007

( If you have diabetes, you may have been told to watch your diet. What exactly does this mean? It may feel like you have to watch all your favorite foods walk out of your life. This doesn't have to be the case!

One way to manage your blood sugar and enjoy the foods you love is to be aware of the amount of carbohydrates in your meals. Carbohydrates, protein and fats all supply your body with energy. Carbohydrates affect your blood sugar the most. It's important to know which foods contain carbohydrates and how to add them up. Counting carbohydrates (carbs) lets you eat your favorite foods and keep your blood sugar under control.

What is one carb?

One carbohydrate serving is equal to 15 grams of carbohydrate. For example, one slice of bread, one medium apple, and one cup of milk each equal one carb. If you eat just these three foods for breakfast, your carb intake would be 45 grams (15x3). Here's another example: you eat a peanut butter and jelly sandwich with a small banana and a cup yogurt for lunch. Can you spot the carbs? Here's a breakdown:

two slices of bread = 30 grams (each slice = 15 grams)
small banana = 15 grams
cup of yogurt = 15 grams
total of
= 60 grams carbohydrate for lunch

One Carb (15 g) =

  • a medium piece of fruit
  • cup of starch (cereal, potato, pasta, rice etc)
  • a cup of milk or yogurt

Diabetes Diet

How many carbs should I eat?

Everyone's calorie and carbohydrate needs are different. It's important to eat the same amount of carbohydrates at each meal along with a moderate amount of protein and a limited amount of fat, to keep your blood sugar levels at acceptable levels. If possible, meet with a dietitian to create an individualized meal plan. For most people, three to four (45-60 grams) of carbs are recommended per meal. The key is to keep your carbohydrate intake consistent at each meal on a regular basis.

How to find carbs on food labels?

The serving size for a particular food is listed at the top of the nutrition facts label. The serving size will vary depending on the food, even if the items are from the same food group. Once you know the serving size, locate the total carbohydrates on the label. This value includes sugar, fiber, and other carbs that the food may contain. The total carbohydrate amount is the number to look for. Looking at the sugar grams alone will give you an incomplete picture.

The Bottom Line

You don't have to eat the same foods everyday to maintain good blood sugar control. A variety of foods are recommended to obtain all the vitamins, minerals, and nutrients your body needs. It would be really boring to eat the same things everyday. Get to know your carbs and the serving sizes that are equal to 15 grams. Then read food labels to help plan your meals. Remember, you aren't watching your favorite foods walk out the door. They can still be a part of your life!

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Information on this site is provided for informational purposes and is not meant to substitute for the advice provided by your own physician or dietitian. Information and statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.
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