By Dana Gottesman
Is there really such a big difference between chowing down on a slice of toast or some cereal for breakfast? In word: yes. Think twice before you bite — the carbohydrates you choose can directly impact your glucose levels and insulin usage.
Why? The carbohydrates found in many foods raise blood glucose levels. Carb counting is a meal-planning technique that can help you manage your diabetes by making sure you get the number of carbs you need to keep your blood sugar balanced. More advanced carb counting allows you to adjust the amount of insulin you take at mealtimes based on the amount of carbs you eat at your meal.
“Counting carbohydrates can help you shed pounds and lower your blood pressure and cholesterol levels,” says Rita Singer, RD, a nutritionist and founder of the company Nutrition RS. “All the small changes you make at meal time can have a huge impact on your diabetes management and overall health status.”
The number of carbs a person needs to keep their blood sugar in check varies. Think of your individual diet as a Rubik’s cube, where your own nutritional requirements and lifestyle factors have to be configured to meet all your personal needs. Speaking to your healthcare provider for support can help to clarify the process and empower you to make the right dietary changes. “Diabetes manifests itself differently in every individual,” says Singer. “A 6-foot inactive male does not have the same daily carbohydrate needs as a 5-foot female marathon runner. We need to look at your level of activity, age, weight and other factors.”
For the average person, a meal should generally contain around 45 to 65 grams of carbohydrates, or 3 to 4 carb servings, according to the American Diabetes Association (1 carb serving is about 15 grams of carbohydrates). To stay in that range, you may find you have to eat smaller portions, cut back on foods that are high in fat and sugar (which can cause difficult-to-predict changes in blood sugar levels) to peak and then plummet dramatically), and look out for carb sources that contain whole grains (which contain sugars that your body absorbs more slowly). Your provider may refer you to a dietitian (RD), diabetes educator (CDE) or other nutrition professional so that you can develop a more customized meal plan together.
Published on May 6, 2013. Updated on March 30, 2016.
Dana Gottesman is a health and lifestyle writer based in the New York City area.