Counting carbs, in conjunction with a healthy meal plan, helps give you the flexibility to have a balanced diet full of variety so that it is easy to maintain! Being aware of how many carbs you are eating is also a great way to control your blood sugar throughout the day, maintain or lose weight, and ensure that you have the proper amount of energy for your day to day life.
How Many Carbs Should You Eat?
The amount of carbs you should eat varies massively depending on your individual lifestyle factors and goals. The general principle with carb counting is to calculate the grams of carbs being consumed at meals to better understand your blood sugar levels and how they are affected by the foods you eat. The first step for successful carb counting is to have a meal plan guiding you on how many carbs, protein and fat to eat with your meals and snacks. Be sure to work closely with your dietitian to come up with a plan that works for you, and always remember to consult with a professional before making any major dietary changes.
What Foods Have Carbs?
Often times the assumption is that with a low carb diet, or a diabetes diet in general, that all you need to do is reduce sugar consumption. However, there are carbs in many things other than sugar, and it all can affect your blood sugar and needs to be accounted for. In addition to sugar, foods that contain carbs include starches like breads and pasta, fruit, milk, cereal, desserts and juices.
There are also two main categories of carbs, simple versus complex carbohydrates. Simple carbs generally include sugars and white breads and these are the “bad carbs” that are broken down quickly in your body and therefore raise blood sugar very quickly. Complex carbs generally include whole grains and vegetables and these are considered the “good carbs” as they take longer to digest and therefore don’t raise blood sugars nearly as quickly as the simple carbs. Even when carb counting, it is better to have your carb choices be the healthier complex carbs and be a bit more sparing with the simple carbs.
Counting Carbs with Nutrition Labels
When a food has a nutrition label, this is a quick and effective way to count carbs. Check the total carbohydrates in relation to the recommended portion size. If you plan on eating more than the recommended portion size then you will have to take this into account with your overall carb count. Be sure to always check beverage labels as well as food labels.
If you’d like to go more in depth on nutrition labels, check out our other blog post all about Nutrition Labels, Simplified.
Counting Carbs with Non-Labeled Foods
There are many times when reading nutrition labels just isn’t possible, for instance if you are eating an apple or ordering a dish from a restaurant. In these instances, it is best to estimate the amount of carbs using a diabetic exchange chart. An exchange chart groups similar foods into categories or “exchanges” where you can select foods to eat according to your meal plan. So if you are allowed 2 exchanges in your afternoon snack, you can consult the exchange chart and select the combination of foods that you want.
For more information on how exchanges work, please have a discussion with your dietitian. You can also check out this article from Very Well Health!
Carb counting can be very helpful when managing your blood sugar and daily symptoms of diabetes. However, it is not the only thing that should be taken into account for healthful eating. So along with carb counting, below are some general tips for a good diet:
- Try not to skip meals
- Be sure to spread carbs out throughout the day, rather than loading all carbs for the day into one meal or short span of time
- Eat a balanced meal including carbs, protein, healthy fats and veggies in each dish
- Drink lots of water to stay hydrated and feel full
And of course, if you want more information or help with carb counting and figuring out what is the correct amount of carbs for you, please consult with your dietitian (or call us if you don’t have one yet!) so that you can make an educated and safe plan moving forward.