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How to Count Carbs

By Terri D'Arrigo
WebMD Feature

When you have diabetes, it’s important to balance your carbs with your medication. Have too many carbs and not enough medication and your blood sugar can soar. Too few carbs and too much medication and it can crash. Neither is good.

Counting the carbs you eat at each meal or snack can help you balance them with your medications and keep your blood sugar stable.

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How Many Carbs Should You Eat in Each Meal?

Half of each meal. The U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends that you get between 45% and 65% of your calories from carbs. You could think of this as half your plate at each meal can be taken up by carbs.

Carbohydrates in grams. To be more precise, count the carbs. You can see how many grams of carbohydrates are in packaged foods by reading the nutrition facts labels. For non-packaged foods, you can look this information up online.

The Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) for carbs is 130 grams per day. Per meal this comes to about:

  • 60-75 grams of carbohydrates per meal for men
  • 45-60 grams per meal for women

Carbohydrate choices. This can help you eyeball the number of carbs you’re going to eat once you know approximately how many carbs are in different foods. Using this method, you have a certain amount of “carb choices” you can have in a meal or snack.

  • Men can have 4 to 5 carb choices per meal
  • Women can have 3 to 4 carb choices per meal
  • Whether you’re a man or woman, snacks should be 1 or 2 carb choices

So what is a "carb choice" or serving of carbs? A carb choice is an amount of food that has about 15 grams of carbs in it.

For example, 1 slice of bread is one carb choice. But 1/4 of a large baked potato is also one carb choice. So having a whole baked potato could blow your whole carb choice budget for one meal.

You can find lists of carb choices for different foods online. You can also ask a nutritionist or diabetes instructor.

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