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The Diabetes Plate Meal Planning Guide

Carb Counting Basics – Your Guide to Getting Started

Are you struggling to figure out what to eat with Type 2 Diabetes? Learn carb counting basics to give you greater flexibility in planning your meals.

Do you want a meal planning strategy that gives you the freedom to include flavor, taste and the foods you love? Carb counting is your answer!

Carb counting is a great meal planning tool to control blood sugars. It is a flexible way of meal planning that allows you to make choices about what types of foods you want to eat. Carb counting can help you make the best choices for any social occasion.

First, let's review carbohydrates and how they affect your blood sugars.

Carbohydrates and Their Affect on Blood Sugars

Some types of foods break down in your bodies to blood sugar. This includes any food that contains carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are starchy foods and foods with sugar. Sugar can be natural sugars or sugar that is added to a food product. If you focus on portion sizes, carbohydrate foods can fit into your meals and snacks. Carb counting gives you great flexibility when planning meals or snacks.

Carbohydrate Containing Foods

Carbohydrate foods include:

  • Starchy foods like potatoes, rice, bread, corn, and pasta
  • Foods that contain natural sugars like milk and fruit
  • Foods containing added sugars such as candies, cakes, soda pop

Foods That Don't Contain Carbohydrates

Some foods don't contain carbohydrates. Foods without carbs have little impact on your blood sugars.

These foods include:

  • Most vegetables
  • Meat and alternatives
  • Fats like margarine or cooking oils

Vegetables will fill you up, so you feel satisfied with your meal. Meats and alternatives and fats digest slower than carbohydrates. This helps keep you feeling full longer. They also slow down how fast or slow carbohydrates in your meal will digest. In turn, this affects the rate that carbohydrates turn into blood sugar.

How Many Carbs Should You be Eating?

Most women with Type 2 Diabetes should have:

  • About 45 grams of carbs per meal
  • 0-15 grams of carbohydrates per snack

This carbohydrate level can be higher or lower depending on specific needs. For example, if you are trying to lose weight, 30 grams of carbs may work better for you. If you are very active, 60 grams of carbs may work better for you to meet your increased calorie needs.

Talk to your dietitian or diabetes educator to find out what the right carb goals are for you.

Diabetes Meal Planning Tools

To control carbohydrate intake, most people use the diabetes plate method or carb counting. You can use one of these methods, or a combination of these methods. Today we will look at carb counting basics.

Carb Counting Basics

This chart shows some example of 15-gram carb-containing foods. As you can see, portion sizes are different for different types of foods within a food category. For example, because rice is so densely packed, only 1/3 of a cup of rice has 15 grams compared to ½ of a cup of potatoes or pasta. Portion sizes of 15 grams of carbohydrates of fruit also vary, depending on the fruit. Compare 2 Tbsp of raisins to 1 cup of melon or berries!

It’s important that you become familiar with different foods and their carbohydrate content. Reading labels is also helpful to determine carb content.

Grains Fruit Dairy/Alternatives
1 slice of bread 1 medium apple 1 cup of milk
½ hamburger bun 1 medium orange 1 cup of soy beverage
½ cup potato 1 cup of berries ½ cup chocolate milk
½ cup cooked pasta ½ large banana ¾ cup of plain yogurt
½ cup corn 15 grapes
1/3 cup rice 1 cup of melon
¾ cup hot cereal ¾ cup pineapple
7 soda crackers 2 Tbsp raisins

Note: These are carb content estimates. For more accuracy, it’s important to learn how to read labels to determine carb content.

Examples of 45 Gram Carb Meals

Here are a few examples of meals that contain 45 grams of carbohydrates:

  • A turkey sandwich and a medium apple (2 slices of bread = 30 grams and a medium apple = 15 gram for a total of 45 grams of carbs)
  • Tuna pasta salad and a glass of milk (1 cup of pasta = 30 grams and 1 cup of milk = 15 grams for a total of 45 grams of carbs)
  • Mashed potatoes, corn, green beans and roast beef (1 cup of potato = 15 grams and 1/3 of a cup of corn = 15 grams for a total of 45 grams of carbs).
  • Spaghetti with meat sauce, tossed salad and ½ slice of garlic bread (1 cup of spaghetti = 30 grams and ½ slice of garlic bread = 15 grams for a total of 45 grams of carbohydrates).

Advantages of Carb Counting

As you can see, carb counting requires a bit of basic math, but it’s an awesome way to plan your meals. It is more accurate than the plate method. It is also more flexible as it is easy to mix and match food from the different food groups. The possible combinations that you can come up with are endless! You can even include the occasional treat like sweets if you plan for it.

Including “Treats” in Your Meal Plan

You want to focus on the whole grains, fruit, and dairy as your carbohydrate sources the majority of the time. But of course, it's possible to work in a treat.

  • Have small portions and save your treats for special occasions. It’s ok to have a small piece of cake on your birthday or enjoy a couple of grandma’s shortbread cookies at Christmas.
  • Eat your treat WITH your meal – it will cause a lower blood sugar peak because it digests slower
  • Have smaller portions of other carb-containing foods at your meal.

How do you see carb counting working for you as a meal planning tool? What are some possible meal combinations you can come up with?

4 Responses to "Carb Counting Basics – Your Guide to Getting Started"
Linda

Hi, I’m Linda Gilmour Kessler. I'm a Registered Dietitian specializing in women and Type 2 Diabetes. My mission is to help you to learn to manage your diabetes with confidence and ease.

My clients feel calm and confident, have great management, and live happy, healthy lives.

Let's manage your diabetes without all the crazy food restrictions or rules that turn your life topsy-turvy. Learn about my ROCK YOUR DIABETES PROGRAM and let's get you started Living the Sweet Life.