Carb counting and diabetes:
Carbohydrates are the main kind of food that raises blood sugar levels. That’s why it’s important to be aware of the amount of carbohydrates you eat. Simple carbohydrates, or sugar, will begin to raise blood sugar very soon after you eat them. Complex carbohydrates, or starchy foods, take longer for the body to change into sugar but will eventually be changed completely to sugar. Protein and fat have little effect on blood sugar levels.
Carbohydrate (or “carb”) counting can help you:
- Manage your blood sugar
- Be more flexible in your choice of foods and at mealtimes
- Eat more foods that you enjoy
To count carbs, you need to:
- Know which foods contain carbs and find out how many
- Read food labels and use measuring tools, such as measuring cups, spoons, or a food scale
- Work with your diabetes care team to decide how to divide your carbs among your meals and snacks
Many foods contain carbs. The foods that contain the most carbs are:
- Starches–all bread, cereal, crackers, grains, rice, pasta
- Starchy vegetables–potatoes, corn, peas, beans
- All fruits and fruit juices
- All milk and yogurt
- Sugary foods–candy, regular sodapop, jelly
- Sweets—cakes, cookies, pies, ice cream, sugar-free treats
In fact, the only food groups that generally don’t contain carbs are:
- Meats and meat substitutes, such as eggs and cheese
- Fats and oils
Because carbs raise blood sugar more than they nutrients, you may wonder why you should eat them all. You need to eat foods with carbs because they provide your body with energy, along with many vitamins and minerals. Sweets are okay to include in your meal plan once in a while. But keep in mind that sweets often contain a lot of carb, calories, and fat, with very little nutritional value.
Sugar alcohols are one kind of reduced-calorie sweetener. They include sweeteners like maltitol, mannitol, sorbitol, xylitol, and isomalt. Sugar alcohols are used in some sugar-free candy, gum, and desserts. Despite their name, sugar alcohols do not contain alcohol. Products containing sugar alcohols are not always low in carbs or calories. So be sure to check the label on any of these products. The effect of sugar alcohols on your blood sugar can vary (i.e. pass gas).
Work with your dietician or another member of your diabetes care team to find the number of carbs you need in our meal plan. That’s the number that you should aim for each day. Your dietician or diabetes educator can help you easily divide your carbs among your meals and snacks. If you take diabetes pills or 1 to 2 injections of insulin a day, try to eat the same amount of carbs at the same meals and snacks each day. If you take 3 or more insulin injections, you may have more flexibility with your meal plan.
Skipping meals can lead to low blood sugar, especially if you take insulin. If you include snacks in your meal plan, count the carbs!
Keep in mind that in the food lists, 1 carb unit equals 15 grams of carbohydrate. For example, a cranberry juice cocktail should be counted as 1 carb. That means that 1/2 cup of cranberry juice cocktail has about 15 carbs.
For foods that come in packages, the best place to find the carb count is on the Nutrition Facts label. The grams of total carbohydrate on the label are the key to carb counting. Don’t worry about counting the sugar and fiber grams. They are included in the total carb number. Check serving size. Information on the label is based on the serving size. See how many grams of carb are in each serving. Decide whether the food fits in your meal plan. Also, check the sugars on each food item and sugar alcohols on sugar-free sweets.