Making Sense of Carbohydrate Counting

If you or a loved one have been recently diagnosed with diabetes, you know that the nutrition guidelines for diabetics can seem overwhelming at times. And following the guidelines, which include carbohydrate counting, is crucial to a diabetic’s health.

Here, from the National Diabetes Information Clearinghouse, part of the National Institutes of Health, is an easy-to-understand explanation of carbohydrate counting. This tool for planning meals will help you keep track of the amount of carbs you’re eating each day, and whether you’re in goal range.

Along with protein and fat, carbs are one of the main nutrients we get in food. Carbs are made up of sugar, starches and fiber. It’s important to count how many carbs you’re eating because they affect your blood sugar levels more than other nutrients.

Healthy carbohydrates, including whole grains and fresh fruits and vegetables, can provide you with both energy and nutrients. They’re also a source of fiber, which can help prevent constipation and control your weight. But there are also unhealthy carbs, most notably food with added sugars. While they can provide energy, they have little or no nutrients.

Unhealthy carbohydrates are often food and drinks with added sugars. Although unhealthy carbohydrates can also provide energy, they have little to no nutrients. Read more about which carbohydrates provide nutrients for good health and which carbohydrates do not in What I need to know about Eating and Diabetes at

The amount of carbohydrate in any given food is measured in grams. The NDIC says that to get an accurate amount of the carbs you’re eating, you’ll need to know which foods contain carbohydrates, to learn to estimate the number of grams you’re eating and to add up the number of grams you eat on any given day.

The NDIC lists the following foods as containing carbohydrates:

Grains, such as bread, noodles, pasta, crackers, cereals, and rice

Fruits, such as apples, bananas, berries, mangoes, melons, and oranges

Dairy products, such as milk and yogurt

Legumes, including dried beans, lentils, and peas

Snack foods and sweets, such as cakes, cookies, candy, and other desserts

Juices, soft drinks, fruit drinks, sports drinks, and energy drinks that contain sugars

Vegetables, especially “starchy” vegetables such as potatoes, corn, and peas. These vegetables, the NDIC says have more carbs per serving than nonstarchy vegetables.

Nonstarchy vegetables include asparagus, broccoli, carrots, celery, green beans, lettuce and other salad greens, peppers, spinach, tomatoes, and zucchini.

Foods that do not contain carbohydrates include meat, fish, and poultry; most types of cheese; nuts; and oils and other fats.