What You Should Know About Carbohydrates (Carbs)
Food is fuel for your body - the fuel or energy needed to work, play and do the things you want to do. Foods that contain carbohydrate give you quick energy. Your body turns these carbohydrates into glucose (sugar) which it uses for fuel like a car uses gasoline. Foods that contain carbohydrate include:
- grains such as cereal, bread, pasta and rice
- beans and vegetables
- fruits and juices
- milk and yogurt
- sweets and desserts
Eating a variety of healthy carbohydrates such as whole grains, vegetables, fresh fruits and beans, is recommended for people with diabetes. Eat fewer refined grains such as white bread, pasta and rice. Limiting fruit juice, soda and other sweetened beverages, and sweet desserts will help control blood sugar.
Counting carbs in the foods you eat can help you control your blood sugar. Eating a consistent amount of carbohydrate at your meals is important. If learning to count carbs is something you want to do, then working with a dietitian will help. In the meantime you can learn what foods contain carbohydrate and how many carbs to eat at your meals.
What To Do
Knowing the amount of carbohydrate in different foods can help you manage your blood sugar.
One of the most important ways to find out how much carbohydrate is in a food is to read the Nutrition Facts on food labels. It will tell you how many grams of carbohydrate are in one serving of that food.
Sorting Out the Numbers
One carb serving/choice = 15 grams (g) of carbohydrate
Most women can have three to four carb choices (45-60 grams of carb) per meal; most men can have four to five carb choices (60-75 grams of carb) per meal. Some people may need to have one or two carb servings for a snack (15-30 grams).
Some examples of food with 15 grams of carbohydrate
- One slice of bread or 1/2 English muffin
- One small piece of fruit
- 1/2 cup cooked beans, legumes
- One small brownie (2x2 inch square)
- Six saltine crackers
- 1/2 cup peas, corn or potato
- 1/2 cup cooked rice or pasta
- One cup milk
Putting it All Together
Eating the recommended number of carb servings, along with some lean protein (chicken, fish, eggs, tofu, lean beef) and a small amount of "good" fat will provide a healthy, well balanced meal. Good fats include olive oil, canola oil, peanut oil, soft tub margarines (without trans fat), nuts and nut butters.
A Piece of Cake
The number of carbohydrate choices per day should be balanced between meals and snacks in a way that helps keep your blood sugar in good control. You usually eat foods from the food groups of MyPyramid, but what if today is your birthday and you want a piece of cake? Do you say “Today, I’m just not going to follow my diet and if my blood sugars go up, it’s no big deal”? That’s not a great idea.
If you count carbs you can figure it out. Here’s how: you know that the small potato you usually eat has 15 grams of carb (1 carb serving) and the slice of bread is also 15 grams of carb. A 2- inch square of frosted cake has 30 grams of carb (2 carb servings). Give up the potato and bread but eat (and enjoy!) the cake.
"Sometimes people get the idea that there is almost nothing good someone with diabetes can eat. I really limited my diet for over a year. I never had dessert. Then one day a person with diabetes told me he’d had an ice cream bar for lunch. ‘How could you do that,’ I exclaimed. ‘It’s easy,’ he said. ‘It’s all about counting carbohydrates. Just count the 30 grams of carbohydrate in the ice cream bar as part of your daily total”.
I went out that day and had an ice cream, made sure I had enough insulin to cover, and what a joy to savor! I don’t do that every day. But it’s so liberating to realize that no food is off limits. I just need to count my total carbohydrates and pay attention to my blood sugar."
In addition to your dietition:
- Complete Guide to Carb Counting. American Diabetes Association. http://store.diabetes.org or call 1-800-232-6733.
- The Corinne T. Netzer Carbohydrate Counter. Dell Publishing. Available in most bookstores.
- American Diabetes Association - http://www.diabetes.org
- American Dietetic Association - http://www.eatright.org