How many carbs can I eat with diabetes?

Janis Jibrin, MS, RD
Nutrition & Dietetics
There is no one-size-fits-all carb prescription; some people can handle more at a meal than others. How many carbs you're allowed each day is tied to your daily calorie needs, which, in turn, are based on genetics, whether you need to lose weight, and how much exercise you're getting. Obviously, the more calories you burn through physical activity and the faster your inherent metabolism, the more calories you can consume and still stay at a healthy weight or lose weight.
The Best Life Guide to Managing Diabetes and Pre-Diabetes

More About this Book

The Best Life Guide to Managing Diabetes and Pre-Diabetes

Bob Greene has helped millions of Americans become fit and healthy with his life-changing Best Life plan. Now, for the first time, Oprah's trusted expert on diet and fitness teams up with a leading...
Enas Shakkour
Nutrition & Dietetics
The amount of carbs you can eat depends on your age, sex, height, weight, and activity level. On average females can have 3-4 servings of carbs for each meal, and a serving of carbs in between meals. A serving of carbohydrates is 15 grams of carbs. On average, a male can have 5-6 servings of carbs for each meal and a serving of carb in between each meal. Remember, though, that the type of carb matters to. As a diabetic, you should choose carbs that are whole grains. Whole grains contain fiber and nutrients, and they help keep you satiated longer.
Amy Jamieson-Petonic
Nutrition & Dietetics

This is a difficult question to answer without a little more information. When you have diabetes, your carbohydrate intake is dependent on your age, gender, and activity factor. Obviously a young active person will require much more carbs than an older, sedentary person. Your dietitian or certified diabetes educator can sit down and help you determine the right amount for you. 

Toby Smithson
Nutrition & Dietetics

Carbohydrate quantity is individualized so you will need to meet with your Registered Dietitian to find out how many grams of carbohydrate you will consume. Your dietitian will give you a meal plan that will balance out the amount carbohydrates throughout the day. In general, about 50-55% of your total calories will come from carbohydrate.

William Lee Dubois
Endocrinology Diabetes & Metabolism

So a quick review. Carbs are simple sugars and starches, but all you really need to know about them is that they tend to raise blood sugar very quickly, and the more carbs you eat at one time the higher your blood sugar is likely to go.

For instance, if you have two packages of snacks on the table in front of you and one has 25 carbs on the label and the other has 45 carbs, I’d expect the 45 carb snack would spike your blood sugar worse than the 25 carb snack. So you can use the carb count of a food as a predictor of the blood sugar impact it is likely to have.

Higher carb foods tend to be white in color:

  • Sugar
  • Flour (including pasta, sorry)
  • Potatoes
  • Rice

Diabetics like me who use fast-acting insulin count our carbs before eating to know how much insulin is needed to “cover” the impact. For diabetics on oral meds it can be trickier.

The common wisdom is that for non-diabetic people to maintain weight an adult male should limit himself to 60 carbs per meal and an adult female to 50 carbs per meal. Of course, children should have less. That said, the vast majority of American meals are far greater than this. For instance a Big Mac, large fries, and a 21 oz. Coke (which McDonald’s considers a “medium”) totals up to 166 carbs, nearly the daily total for a full grown man, which wouldn’t really be a problem if he only ate the one meal per day.

But for people with diabetes, things are trickier. As a general rule, to maintain blood sugar control, diabetics should have a slightly lower carb total than non-diabetics. Women should still have a lower carb count than men, because their bodies are generally smaller. If you are trying to lose weight, a still lower carb count is advised. But don’t go crazy, you need some carbs. Very low carb diets are neither healthy nor sustainable. For the vast majority of diabetics, I find 30-45 carbs per meal seems to work well.

A simple way to test where in this range you fit in, use your blood glucose meter. Test before you eat a set number of carbs and two hours later. The after-eating number should be around 50 points higher. If it is much higher, try a lower carb count next time.

Foods that are high in carbs and high in either fat or fiber tend to have less of an impact on your blood sugar.

Jessica Crandall
Nutrition & Dietetics

Depending on how many calories your body needs depends on the amount of carbohydrates necessary. Usually a breakfast, lunch, and dinner has 30-60 grams of carbohydrate. Each snack should be around 15 grams of carbohydrates. Meet with a Registered Dietitian to get the exact grams of carbohydrate that are necessary to consume.

Reza Yavari, MD
Endocrinology Diabetes & Metabolism

An average person without diabetes and with healthy eating habits consumes about 200 to 300 grams of carbs a day. Since diabetes is one of the few chronic conditions which is directly impacted by food choices, it is important to keep track of the amount and kind of carbs consumed.

Aside from very active or athletic individuals, most people with type 1 or type 2 diabetes are better off cutting their carbohydrate intake to 100 to 150 grams of carbs a day. If weight loss is also a goal, carbs may have to be reduced even more.

In all cases, ask your physician or diabetes educator for guidance. Remember all carbs are not the same in the body. People with diabetes should avoid high-glycemic index carbs such as sugar like in soda or candy, enriched carbs such as starches, and some very sweet fruits. 

Chelsea Dierkes
Nutrition & Dietetics
In general, men with diabetes should aim for 60-75 grams per meal & females should aim for 45-60 grams per meal. An appropriate amount for snacks would be 15-30 grams.
If you have diabetes and you're counting carbohydrates (carbs), keep these guidelines in mind:
  • Women need about 3 to 4 carb servings per meal (or split between a meal and a snack).
  • Men need about 4 to 5 carb servings per meal (or meal and snack).

Continue Learning about Diabetes

4 Things to Know About Diabetic Heart Disease
4 Things to Know About Diabetic Heart Disease
The close association between diabetes and heart disease is well documented: Diabetes and prediabetes are listed among the top risk factors for corona...
Read More
What should I know about taking medication if I have diabetes?
Univ. of Nev. School of Medicine, Family MedicineUniv. of Nev. School of Medicine, Family Medicine
Many patients with type 2 diabetes can manage their diabetes with oral medication, not insulin injec...
More Answers
4 Ways Winter Affects Your Diabetes
4 Ways Winter Affects Your Diabetes4 Ways Winter Affects Your Diabetes4 Ways Winter Affects Your Diabetes4 Ways Winter Affects Your Diabetes
Cold hands could be a bigger problem than you think.
Start Slideshow
What Does Having High Blood Sugar Mean?
What Does Having High Blood Sugar Mean?

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.