How can carbohydrate counting help diabetes patients?

Carbohydrate counting is a tactic for keeping blood sugar levels near normal levels. Maintaining blood sugar levels helps those living with diabetes stay healthier longer by preventing or delaying diabetes-related complications such as kidney disease, blindness, nerve damage, and blood vessel disease that can lead to heart attacks, strokes, and amputations.

What is carbohydrate counting?

Carbohydrate counting is a meal planning option to control blood sugar levels. Carbohydrate counting involves keeping track of the amount of carbohydrates in the foods you eat each day. It is most often used by people who take insulin twice or more times a day.

Consuming healthy carbohydrates, such as whole grains, fruits, and vegetables, are an important part of a healthy eating plan because they can provide both energy and nutrients, such as vitamins and minerals, and fiber. 

Avoiding unhealthy carbohydrates — which are often food and drinks with added sugars — is also important because they have little to no nutritional value. 

How do you track carbohydrates?

The amount of carbohydrates in foods is measured in grams. To track grams of carbohydrates, you’ll need to:

  • Know which foods contain carbohydrates;
  • Learn to estimate the number of grams of carbohydrates in the foods you eat; and
  • Add the grams of carbohydrates from each food you eat to get your total for the day

Which foods contain carbohydrates?

Foods that contain carbohydrates include:


  • Bread
  • Noodles
  • Pasta
  • Crackers
  • Cereals
  • Rice


  • Apples
  • Bananas
  • Berries
  • Mangoes
  • Melons
  • Oranges


  • Milk
  • Yogurt


  • Beans
  • Lentils
  • Peas
  • Chickpeas

Snack foods and sweets:

  • Cakes
  • Cookies
  • Candy
  • Juices
  • Soft drinks
  • Fruit drinks
  • Sports drinks
  • Energy drinks that contain sugars and starchy vegetables such as potatoes, corn, and peas

How many carbohydrates do you need each day?

Everyone needs to get enough carbohydrates to meet the body’s needs for energy, vitamins and minerals, and fiber. For most people, carbohydrate intake should be between 45 and 65 percent of total calories. If you have diabetes, this number may vary — your doctor, a Registered Dietitian, or Certified Diabetes Educator can help identify the right amount of carbohydrates for you. 

Here’s how to approximate how many carbs are in foods:

  • 1 gram of carbohydrates = 4 calories 
  • Divide total calories by 4. For example, if you eat 1,800 calories in a day, that equals 200 grams of carbs.

After getting the total grams of carbohydrates, you’ll need to spread out your carbohydrate intake throughout the day. To know how many servings you need during the day, you will have to divide the total of grams by 15. For example, 200 grams of carbohydrates divided by 15 is equal to 13 servings of carbohydrates daily. 

How many carbohydrates are in the foods you eat?

You will need to learn to estimate the amount of carbohydrates in the foods you typically eat. For example, the following amounts of carbohydrate-rich foods each contain about 15 grams: 

  • 1, 1/2 cup of starchy vegetables such as mashed potatoes, cooked corn, peas, or lima beans
  • 3/4 cup of dry cereal 

Some foods are so low in carbohydrates that you may not have to count them unless you eat large amounts. For example, the following non-starchy vegetables have only about 5 grams of carbohydrates:

  • 1/2-cup serving of cooked broccoli
  • 1 cup of raw spinach 

A Registered Dietitian Nutritionist or Certified Diabetes Educator can help you learn what foods to eat, how much to eat, and when to eat based on your weight, activity level, medicines, and blood glucose targets.