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Carb Counting Made Simple

We are faced with loads of news sources about diabetes. People often become confused concerning what information they should follow. There are also many false opinions about what one can and cannot eat when they have diabetes. This is especially true as we face Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays where people tend to overeat.

Learning basic principles of carbohydrate counting will help you keep your blood sugars within target range all year round while still allowing freedom of food choices. There are three main sources of energy: carbohydrates, protein, and fat. Because carbohydrates have the greatest affect on blood sugar, they are of the most concern.

1. Learn how to identify carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are the main source of energy for the body, and are found in all foods: grain, dairy, and fruit groups, some from the vegetable group, and all sweets. Let’s review some examples.

The grain group consists of starchy foods: rice, bread, cereal, and pasta. In the dairy group, milk andyogurt count as carbohydrates, but cheese is a protein source. All fruits and fruit juice are counted as carbohydrates. Vegetables that contain carbohydrates include potatoes, corn, squash, peas, and beans.

Avoid simple sugar and foods with empty calorie, such as regular soda pop, hard candies, jelly, snack cakes, and chips. We call these foods empty calories because they provide very little nutrition, but still contain calories.

2. Find the appropriate number of carbohydrates: It is essential to visit with a dietitian to find the correct number of carbohydrate servings needed to each meal. Calorie levels should be figured based on age, sex, height, weight, medicines, activity level, and personal goals. As a rough guide, women need between 3-4 servings of carbohydrates per meal while men need between4-5 servings of carbohydrates per meal.

3. Count carbohydrates at home: Counting carbohydrates can be done in two ways — serving sizes and grams of carbohydrates. When counting carbohydrates at home, utilize the labels on food packaging. First locate the serving size, next the grams of carbohydrates. One serving of carbohydrates includes 15g of carbohydrate. Remember, the serving size listed on a package may contain more than one serving of carbohydrate. For example: If a bottle of juice says 1 cup is 1 serving, but the number of grams of carbohydrates is 30. That 1 cup equals 2 servings of carbohydrate. Drinking only ½ cup counts as 1 serving.

4. Counting carbohydrates at restaurants: When eating at a restaurant, food labels are usually not available, which means you must be familiar with serving sizes. Most fast food restaurants, however, provide this information or you can look them up online. To become familiar with correct portions, practice using measuring cups when you are at home. One serving of most fruits and baked potatoes can be approximated to the size of a woman’s fist.

The following chart provides samples of basic carbohydrate information.

Dairy

Starch

Fruit

Vegetables

1 cup milk

1/3 cup rice or pasta

½ cup juice

½ cup mashed potatoes

1 cup SF yogurt

1 slice bread

2 plums

½ cup corn

½ cup choc. milk

½ cup cooked oats

1 small apple

½ cup beans

5. Include all foods: All foods can be consumed in a healthy diet, but they must be chosen wisely and accounted for. For example, at a birthday party, you could substitute ½ cup of mashed potatoes for ½ cup of ice cream. They both have around the same number of carbohydrates, but they do not have the same nutritional value. These kinds of exchanges should be made infrequently.

Try to make a colorful plate to incorporate a wide range of vitamins and minerals. When extra hungry, eat more nonstarchy vegetables and drink plenty of sugar free fluids like Crystal Light. We tend to over eat when we are dehydrated.

Know what foods contain carbohydrates. Use resources that are available like nutrition facts on packages and those provided at restaurants to count carbohydrates. Practice with portion measurements at home to make dining out easier. Be familiar with the nutrition principles of counting carbohydrates, and give yourself the freedom of choice while blood sugar levels remain under control.

Rebekah Simmons, RD

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