Back to Food and Diet Carbohydrate Counting


When people think of diabetes, they usually think of that old rule against eating sweets. But today's dietary guidelines have no forbidden foods and make controlling your blood sugar much easier. The new guidelines are:

  1. Eat a variety of healthful foods
  2. Eat smaller amounts of protein foods and fewer high fat foods
  3. Balance the carbohydrate you eat with insulin and exercise

The first two guidelines are for long-term health. The third guideline is for blood sugar control. Many people are familiar with Diabetic Exchanges or the Point System for meal planning. A newer method, called Carbohydrate Counting, makes meal planning much simpler.

What is Carbohydrate Counting?

Calories in food come from three sources: carbohydrate, protein, and fat. Each affects blood sugar differently. Carbohydrate, which includes both sugar and starch, has the biggest effect on blood sugar. Carbohydrate counting is based on two ideas:

  1. Eating equal amounts of sugar (such as fruit or, on occasion, candy) or starch (such as bread or pasta) will raise blood sugar about the same amount.
  2. Carbohydrate is the main nutrient that effects blood sugar. Within one to two hours after eating carbohydrate, most of it is changed to blood sugar. Protein and fat have much less effect on blood sugar.

The key to remember is that the amount of carbohydrate you eat (whether sugar or starch) will determine how high your blood sugar level will be after a meal or snack.

Why Use Carbohydrate Counting?

  1. It is easier to learn than Exchanges or the Point System.
  2. It offers more variety in choices.
  3. It provides a more accurate guess of how blood sugar will rise after a meal or snack.
  4. Carbohydrate information on food labels makes meal planning easier.
  5. You can swap an occasional high sugar food (even though it may contain fewer nutrients) for other carbohydrate-containing foods.

How Does Carbohydrate Counting Work?

There are two methods of carbohydrate counting -- simple and advanced.

What About Protein and Fat?

Protein and fat do not raise blood sugar levels as high or as quickly as carbohydrate does. Furthermore, when protein and fat are eaten at the same time as carbohydrate, blood sugar may not rise as quickly. But most people consume more protein and fat than they actually need for good health. Foods high in protein include meat, cheese, nuts, and eggs. Teenage boys need 6-7 ounces daily; teenage girls should eat about 5-6 ounces per day, and children require 3-4 ounces daily. Too many servings of foods high in fat can increase risk of heart disease and cancer, and can cause weight gain. Limit your intake of foods such as cream sauce, gravy, butter and regular stick margarine, salad dressing, and fried foods.

And the Bottom Line Is ...

Sitting on the fence about carb counting? Consider these points:

For Additional Information

Original post 25 November 1998 by Betty Brackenridge, MS, RD, CDE
Updated August 14, 2005

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Last Updated: Wednesday October 08, 2014 12:09:48
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