6 Things to Know About Carb Counting for Diabetes

Doctor William C Lloyd Healthgrades Medical Reviewer
Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Written By Nancy LeBrun on October 12, 2021
  • Gay fathers with young daughter laughing at breakfast at home
    Carb counting is a basic tool for controlling your diabetes.
    Carb counting can play a big role in stabilizing your blood sugar level when you have diabetes. How you count carbs can vary depending on whether you have type 1 or type 2 diabetes. The amount of carbs you should aim to eat also depends on your age, weight, and how active you are. Once you and your diabetes team have established a carb goal, counting carbs can become a habit that can help keep you healthy and prevent complications from diabetes.

  • Young diabetic woman having breakfast at home
    1. Carb counting matters because carbs turn into glucose.
    Carbs are the sugars, starches and fibers in food, which become a form of sugar called glucose in your body. Carbs have a much bigger impact on your blood sugar levels than dietary protein or fat. If you have diabetes, your body cannot process the glucose as it should, which can lead to short- or long-term health problems. If your glucose spikes, you may not have symptoms until it becomes a serious condition called ketoacidosis. Over the long term, high glucose can lead to complications like heart disease. If your blood glucose crashes, you can feel shaky and confused, and severe hypoglycemia is potentially life-threatening.
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    2. Counting carbs can help you feel in control.
    Managing your carbs is different depending on whether you have type 1 or type 2 diabetes. If you have type 2, knowing your carb goal, eating at regular intervals, and tracking your carbs help prevent your blood sugar from spiking. You can control the choice of what and when you eat to keep your glucose at a normal level. For people with type 1 diabetes, who do not produce the insulin that processes glucose, carb counting is an essential part of determining how much insulin to take at meals.
  • African America man injecting insulin into stomach
    3. Carb counting for type 1 diabetes determines your bolus insulin dose.
    In addition to the background insulin you take that stabilizes your blood glucose between meals, you will need to calculate the dose of bolus or fast-acting insulin you inject before you eat carbs. Work with your doctor to establish a daily carb goal, typically between 150 to 250 grams of carbs per day. Match your insulin dose to what’s needed to manage the carbs you plan to eat. Say your meal contains 50 grams of carbs—at a ratio of 1 unit of insulin per 10 grams of carbs, you need 5 units of bolus insulin before your meal.

  • Man testing glucose before meal
    4. Carb counting for type 2 diabetes can prevent the blood sugar seesaw.
    If you have type 2 diabetes, whether or not you take medication for insulin resistance, you may not need to count your carbs precisely, but you still need to be aware how many carbs you’re eating to avoid sugar spikes and drops. The key is to divide the carbs up fairly evenly during the day, in limited amounts. A general guideline is 45 to 60 grams per meal three times a day and 15 to 20 grams per snack twice a day. Carbs should make up no more than 50 or 60% of your daily diet, with the rest from protein and fat.

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    5. Make a quarter of your meal carbohydrates.
    The more you know about how many carbs a food contains, the easier it is to balance them with healthy amounts of protein and unsaturated fats. If you eat 1,800 calories a day, about 50 to 60% of them can be carbs. One simple rule of thumb is to have a quarter of your plate be carbohydrates, but make it a habit to read nutrition labels, use carbohydrate food charts, or try a carb counting app to look up and log your daily carbs.
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    6. You can count carbs with a few pro tips.
    Eat meals at regular intervals, about every five hours, and space your carbs out fairly evenly during the day (unless you are matching your insulin to carbs). Check your blood sugar at recommended intervals. Get familiar with the glycemic index, which ranks carbohydrates from 0 to 100 based on how quickly they raise blood sugar levels after eating. The lower the rank, the more slowly the food is digested, slowing down the rise in glucose. Carb counting may seem complicated at first, and it can be, but with practice and knowledge, it will become second nature.

6 Things to Know About Carb Counting for Diabetes

About The Author

Nancy LeBrun is an Emmy- and Peabody award-winning writer and producer who has been writing about health and wellness for more than five years. She is a member of the Association of Health Care Journalists and the American Society of Journalists and Authors.
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Last Review Date: 2021 Oct 6
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.