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The Diabetes Plate Meal Planning Guide

Simple Label Reading for Diabetes – Counting Carbs

Label reading for diabetes means you have a lot more flexibility in your eating plan. 

Label reading for diabetes is confusing! You might be spending a lot longer at the grocery store. And you aren’t even really sure what you are looking for. 

The good news – having diabetes doesn’t mean that you have to give up your favorite foods! Carb counting and label reading can help you include almost ANY food in your eating plan. If you read the label for carbs and include it in your carb budget for a meal or snack, there are no off-limit foods.

Of course, it’s still important to watch portion sizes. And you don’t want to use your carb budget for less healthy foods all the time! Unfortunately, we can’t live on chocolate alone. It’s important to include whole foods like fruits, vegetable, milk, and meat or alternates most of the time.


Carbohydrates consist of simple carbs, complex carbs, and fiber.

These are all carbohydrates, but they don’t all break down the same in your body. They will have very different impacts on your blood sugars.

Simple carbs are one sugar molecule or two sugar molecules linked to each other.

Simple carbs are in foods such as fruit, vegetables, milk, syrup, table sugar or honey. These digest quickly in your body and raise your blood sugars quicker.

Complex carbohydrates have sugar molecules linked to each other in a more complex structure.

Complex carbohydrates are starchy foods like potatoes, bread, pasta or rice.  It takes longer for complex carbohydrates to break down into sugar in your body. It will raise your blood sugars slower and for a longer period of time.

Fiber is a carbohydrate that is not broken down into individual sugar molecules.

Fiber doesn’t raise blood sugars. There are two types of fiber – insoluble and soluble. Fiber has many benefits – it lowers your blood sugars and HA1C, promotes a healthy gut, and can help with weight loss. Insoluble fiber helps prevent constipation. Soluble fiber dissolves in water and forms a thick gel. This gel slows down how food moves through your digestive tract. It helps keep you feeling full longer and can slow how quickly your blood sugar spikes after a meal.


For most women, 30-45 grams of carbs per meal works well. For snacks, the recommend 0-15 grams of carbohydrates. If you are trying to lose weight, 30 grams of carbs may work better for you. If you are very active in your job or you exercise a lot, you may need 60 grams to meet your increased calorie needs.

Talk to your dietitian or diabetes educator to find out what your carbohydrate goals are. Carb counting is discussed more here.


You can use the Nutrient Facts label to determine how much how much carbohydrate is in food.

Label reading can help you carb count.

  1. Look at the serving size and determine if this is the portion size you usually eat. You may need to do a bit of math to adjust for your portion size. The sample label is for 2 slices of bread. If you only eat one slice, cut the numbers in half.
  2. Find the TOTAL amount of carbohydrate listed. This step gets a bit confusing! The total carb amount INCLUDES starch, sugar (both natural and added) and fiber. Underneath the total amount of carbs, you will see fiber and sugars listed again. Even though they are listed again, you already counted them in the total carb number. It’s important that you don’t count them again. For two slices of bread, there are 37 grams of total carbohydrate. 
  3. Determine how much fiber the food contains. In this example, there are 7 grams of carbohydrate from the fiber. Subtract it from the TOTAL Carbohydrate. Remember – fiber doesn’t raise blood sugars.
  4. The number you get is the amount of carbohydrate that you will include in your meal total. In this example, you would count 30 grams of carbohydrates in your meal.

Note: The sugar number on the label includes added sugars, as well as naturally occurring sugars. Naturally occurring sugars are in fruits, vegetables, and milk. It’s also important to take a look at the ingredient list and look for added sugars. If you are using a lot of packaged and/or processed foods for your carbohydrates. be careful that you aren’t missing out on whole foods that would be a better choice.


So let’s look at an example where we compare types of bread products. The first label is the same as the label we looked at above.  When we calculate the carbohydrates for diabetes carb counting, it has 30 grams of carbohydrates. The second label only has two grams of fiber, so it would contain 35 grams of carbohydrates for diabetes carb counting. The higher fiber product would have a lower impact on blood sugars.

Compare food labels to determine which product has more fiber.



  • Thinking that sugar-free products aren’t going to raise your blood sugar. Many sugar-free products still contain carbohydrates. Any food that contains carbohydrates will break down into blood sugar. It’s important to look at the total carbohydrate number. This number includes carbohydrates AND sugar.
  • Not paying attention to serving sizes. if you eat twice as much as the food label is using as a serving size, your carb count will be inaccurate. Make sure you figure out the carb count on the actual portion size you are eating.
  • Focusing too much on label reading and not focusing on foods without labels. Many of the healthiest foods (like fruits and vegetables!) don’t have food labels but are very healthy. Label reading is a tool to include a variety of different foods. It’s still important that you focus on the overall nutrition quality of the food you are choosing.

Have you been using label reading to count carbs? How will label reading help you include your favorite foods?


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.

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