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Counting Carbs: Three Ways

Campbell and Loghmani use three different levels of carb counting with their patients. You and your doctor will choose your approach based on the type of diabetes you have, what kind of drugs you take, and your weight goals.

The Plate Method

The basic level, Campbell says, is using the plate method. "You divide your plate so that half of your plate is vegetables, a quarter of your plate is a healthy carbohydrate like brown rice, and then a quarter of your plate is a healthy protein food like fish, chicken, or lean meat," she says. If you've just been diagnosed with diabetes, this method can help you become more aware of carbs and learn how to create healthier portions.

Basic Carb Counting

"Once a person is comfortable with that, we move on to basic carb counting," Campbell says. You'll meet with a registered dietician or diabetes educator who will suggest a certain number of carbohydrates to have, based on your weight goals, activity level, and gender. Most women aim for about 45 grams of carbs per meal, and men tend to have 60 to 75 per meal. Snacks should contain about 15 to 30 grams of carbs.

You can either count carbohydrate servings or carbohydrate grams, Campbell says. One serving of carbs equals 15 grams. And one serving is one slice of bread or one small fruit. Counting grams is more precise, but it can be easier to count servings. It's up to you, Campbell says.

Advanced Carb Counting

You may use this advanced level of carb counting if you have type 1 or type 2 diabetes and use insulin before a meal. You can adjust the amount of insulin you use before a meal, based on the number of carbs you eat and your pre-meal blood sugar. For instance, if you are going to eat a big pasta meal, you would take more insulin. "It offers a lot more flexibility," Campbell says.

When counting carbs, you first have to know which foods contain carbs and then figure out the portion size and how many carbs are in it, Loghmani says. Food labels can tell you the exact number of carbohydrate grams in a serving, but you need to be careful to note the serving size on the label.