Diabetic? How to count your carbohydrates

Diabetes is a deficiency disorder that changes the way your body uses glucose for energy. The largest contribution of glucose to the body comes from the major dietary source – the CARBOHYDRATES.

Carbs are the body’s main source of fuel and are found in grains, fruits, vegetables and milk. They provide energy, fiber, vitamins and minerals. They are broken down into glucose and enter the bloodstream.

However, carbohydrates raise your blood sugars more than any other nutrients do.

If carbohydrates raise blood glucose, does it mean that as a diabetic, one should stay away from them? NO! The most important factor in controlling blood sugar is the amount of carbohydrates you eat in a meal, and not the type. Again, that does not mean that a diabetic can eat whatever he/she wants, but that an occasional treat may be okay as long as one makes adjustments in the total amount of carbohydrate eaten in that meal.

The importance of carbohydrates to the diabetic

Some legitimate questions arise when one considers dietary carbohydrate counting or the number of carbohydrate servings in a particular meal. For this, we need to be clear about what carbohydrate counting is.

Carbohydrate counting is not a diet; it is a way of planning your carbohydrate intake to manage your blood sugar levels.

It places importance on keeping the carbohydrate content of your meals and snacks consistent, day after day.
Carbohydrate counting ensures that you can have variety and flexibility in your diet and, most importantly, can follow your traditional diet.

The first step in carb counting is to know the foods that contain carbohydrate. Carbohydrate is found in all foods except meat and fats. Foods that are a good source of carbohydrates are breads, grain, cereals, pasta, starchy vegetables and fruits. Dairy products like milk and yogurt (not cheese and cream) contain carbohydrate in
addition to protein. Foods high in carbohydrate are sweets, and combination foods like pizza and casseroles.

Carbohydrate choices are broken down by 15 grams each. In other words, one carbohydrate choice equals 15 grams, 2 carbohydrate choices equal 30 grams, 3 equal 45 and so on. Most often we may need about 4-5 carbs (60-75gms)
or 3-4 carbs (45-60gms) at each meal. 1-2 carbs (15-30gms) for snacks is quite adequate.

Counting carbohydrates requires individuals to become familiar with common serving sizes. One serving of a starchy food includes one slice of bread, half a hamburger or half a hot dog bun, 1/3 cup cooked rice and pasta, 1/2 cup of oatmeal and 1/4 of a baked potato. One small piece of fruit, 8 oz. of milk, two small cookies and a 2-inch square of
brownie are all one serving of carbohydrates. Each of these servings contains 15 g of carbohydrates.

Spacing carbs and meals for better glycemic control

The nutrition-facts labels on packaged foods list the amount of carbohydrate in ‘grams per serving’. You can use these labels to determine how many carbs you usually consume.

For example, if you have 1 cup of cereal for breakfast and the nutrition label says ‘1/2 cup cereal contains 17 carb grams’, your bowl of cereal has 34 grams of carbohydrate. In the carbohydrate “exchange” or “choice” system, one carb choice is equivalent to 15 grams of carbohydrate.

Each cup of raw or each half cup of cooked non-starchy vegetables is counted as 5 grams of carbohydrate. Examples of non-starchy vegetables are asparagus, broccoli, cabbage and green leafy vegetables. Unless you are eating more than two portions, the carbs in these vegetables don’t need to be counted.

A small reference table, such as the one shown below, is very useful for recording the carbohydrate count of
foods you usually include in your diet.

Carb count (gm) 1 No. of servings
0-5 Free foods
6-10 ½
11-20 1
21-25 1&1/2
26-35 2
45 3
60 4

A word of caution!
Carbohydrate counting does not count the calories.  It only takes the carbohydrate content of foods into consideration. It is important to limit the intake of carbohydrates with little nutritional value, and also to reduce the intake of total fat (especially saturated and trans-fat), to decrease the risk of weight gain and heart disease.
Source: Sasibalika.G, Asst. HoD SEPH Dept, M.V.Hospital for Diabetes & Prof. M.Viswanathan Diabetes Research Centre
Image: Getty Images

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