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The Skinny on Diabetes and Carbohydrates


People with diabetes know that one key to managing blood sugar is to monitor their carbohydrate (carb) intake. But this daily dance with carbohydrates can seem overwhelming at times. Here are some tips and tricks for tracking your carbs and staying within range.

• Choose your method. You can count “carbohydrate choices” (easiest) or carbohydrate grams (a little more math). A portion of food that contains 15 grams of carbs (like a slice of bread or small piece of fruit) is equal to 1 carb choice.


• Set your targets. Generally, women need 45 to 60 grams of carbs at each meal (3 - 4 carb choices), and men need 60 to 75 grams of carbs at each meal (4 - 5 carb choices). You may need more or less. A dietitian can help customize your plan for your body size, activity level, weight goals, and medications.


• Know the numbers. Use lists that show the carb content of foods and food labels (look for “total carbohydrate”) to identify how many grams of carbs are in common food portions. Carb-counting websites and diabetes books are good resources. Make a cheat sheet of the foods you eat regularly.


• Portion your plate. Use measuring cups and spoons or a scale to learn what a portion size looks like. Once you’ve learned the ropes in the comfort of your own kitchen, it will be easier to estimate carbs when dining out.


• Track it. Keep a daily carb log in your kitchen or wallet. Or use an online carb counter that tracks carbs as you go. Have a smartphone? Several apps provide carb counts; they’re especially handy at restaurants.


After monitoring your carbs for a couple of weeks, you’ll find it easier to adjust your portions to stay within your plan. Like learning a new dance step, all it takes is a little practice.


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“Carbohydrate Counting.” American Diabetes Association. March 2015. http://www.diabetes.org/food-and-fitness/food/what-can-i-eat/understanding-carbohydrates/carbohydrate-counting.html.


“Understanding Carbohydrates.” American Diabetes Association. www.diabetes.org/food-and-fitness/food/what-can-i-eat/carbohydrates.html.


“Ready, Set, Start Counting!” Diabetes Care and Education Practice Group, American Dietetic Association. dbcms.s3.amazonaws.com/media/files/73f9af91-b0af-40c2-8f40-659e53061f12/ADA_Carbohydrate%20counting_large%20print_FINAL.pdf.

These articles are not a substitute for medical advice, and are not intended to treat or cure any disease. Advances in medicine may cause this information to become outdated, invalid, or subject to debate. Professional opinions and interpretations of scientific literature may vary. Consult your healthcare professional before making changes to your diet, exercise, or medication regime.