How do I count carbohydrate choices for tight diabetes control?

People with diabetes need to work out their carbohydrate (or carb) intake with their dietitian/diabetes educator in order to determine a daily “carb budget.” This will help you to decide how you will “spend” your carb budget with each meal and snack over the course of the day.

Food labels are also very important. It is essential to check these against your meal plan in order to determine how many grams of carbs are in the foods you eat.

You should also keep good records, as this will help you to keep track of what you have eaten and the effect it has had on your blood glucose. It is best to make a note of what you have eaten and when, your blood glucose readings before and after the meal, as well as the amount of insulin or other medication you have taken. The record will help you assess what foods are good for your blood glucose -- and in what quantities.
Toby Smithson
Nutrition & Dietetics

Carbohydrate counting is used for people with diabetes as a diet management tool. Carbohydrate counting is taking the amount of carbohydrate in foods and using that information to help manage your blood sugar levels. For those on insulin, the amount of carbs will be matched up with the dose of insulin you will inject.

For instance, at lunch your prescription is 10 grams of carb per 1 unit of fast acting insulin. This would mean that you would dose 1 unit of insulin for every 10 grams of carbohydrate eaten. Carb counting is often used for people with diabetes who are not on insulin as well. Carb counting is a way to help balance your carbohydrate intake throughout the day. Carbs have a direct relation to blood sugar readings. Check the nutrition facts panel or a carb counting book for the listing of carb content of specific foods. In general, all fruit, starchy vegetables (peas, corn, potato, beans), breads, cereals, grains, milk and yogurt -all contain carbohydrate.

Ruth Frechman
Nutrition & Dietetics
When it comes to carbohydrates, it's not so much what you eat. It's how much you eat. To make counting carbs easy, all most people have to do is count to 3 for most meals. The key is portion control. First of all, learn the portions sizes for starches (including starchy vegetables), fruits, dairy foods, and sweets. Then look at your plate and count. For example, if your dinner consists of: chicken, baby carrots, rice, cherries, and a glass of milk. Chicken is protein. 5 baby carrots counts as a free food.  Rice (1/3 cup) equals 1 carb; Cherries (12) equals 1 carb; Milk (8 ounces) equals 1 carb.  Thats's your 3 carbs (45 grams).  1, 2, 3. You got it.

Some people prefer to think about their carbohydrates as “choices” rather than grams. This method is based on the concept that a carbohydrate choice contains 15 grams per serving. Your dietitian will recommend how many carbohydrate choices you should eat per meal.

Continue Learning about Diabetes


Diabetes mellitus (MEL-ih-tus), often referred to as diabetes, is characterized by high blood glucose (sugar) levels that result from the body’s inability to produce enough insulin and/or effectively utilize the insulin. Diabetes ...

is a serious, life-long condition and the sixth leading cause of death in the United States. Diabetes is a disorder of metabolism (the body's way of digesting food and converting it into energy). There are three forms of diabetes. Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease that accounts for five- to 10-percent of all diagnosed cases of diabetes. Type 2 diabetes may account for 90- to 95-percent of all diagnosed cases. The third type of diabetes occurs in pregnancy and is referred to as gestational diabetes. Left untreated, gestational diabetes can cause health issues for pregnant women and their babies. People with diabetes can take preventive steps to control this disease and decrease the risk of further complications.

Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.