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Control Your Carbs, Manage Your Diabetes

Answers to common carb questions from people living with type 2 diabetes

Managing your type 2 diabetes can be confusing. You know that your diet plays a leading role in managing this disease, but what can you do to control your blood glucose? How do you count carbs? Should you include the fiber? We’ll help guide you through the carb-maze with crystal clear answers to your carb-questions.

When you were diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, your doctor might have told you to make changes to your diet, most of them concerning carbs. The reason you need to control the amount of carbohydrates you eat is that carbohydrates have the biggest impact on your blood glucose. Keeping track of your carb intake is essential to managing your diabetes.

Here are the answers to some common carb questions from people with type 2 diabetes.

How much carbohydrate do I need?

The amount of carbs you need depends on several factors;

  • how active you are
  • your age
  • whether you want to lose, maintain or gain weight
  • how well your diabetes is doing, and
  • your gender

Our new diabetes management iPhone app HEALTHeDiabetes calculates your targets for you. Alternatively, talk to your diabetes health professional to set a target that’s right for you.

As general guidelines you can use these targets from the American Diabetes Association:

Carbohydrate targets:
  • Most meals should have 45-60 grams of carbohydrate.
  • Most snacks should have 10-25 grams of carbohydrate.
  • Spread your intake throughout the day.

Should I avoid ‘white’ foods such as pasta and bread?

White pasta, rice and bread and foods made with white flour break down quickly into glucose when they’re digested and enter your bloodstream. They cause a spike in blood glucose levels and this is why you should avoid them most of the time. You’re better off replacing them with whole grain equivalents; they contain more fiber and generally result in a slower, steadier rise in blood sugar.

Does it matter when I eat?

Yes. Eating your meals and snacks at about the same time each day helps your diabetes medicine do its job of controlling your blood glucose. Skipping meals or eating meals later than usual may increase your risk for low blood glucose. You should attempt to eat about the same amount of carbohydrates at each meal.

Does it matter how much I eat?

The purpose of keeping track of your carbs is to consistently control the amount of glucose in your blood. If you eat more than usual, you may get high blood glucose levels. Also, when you eat too much, you may gain weight, which in turn can lead to high blood glucose levels. If you eat less food than usual, and you take insulin or certain types of diabetes pills, your blood glucose may go too low.

What’s the best way to count carbs?

Always read the Nutrition Facts label

Carb counting doesn’t have to be difficult. Basically, there are two ways to count carbs; by grams or by choices. One carb ‘choice’ is 15 grams of carbs. The most commonly used method is by grams.

You can see the amount of carbs in a food on its nutrition label shown as ‘Total Carbohydrate’.
Note: nutrition information listed is per serving, which is often not the same as the contents of the package!

For foods that don’t have a nutrition label, such as fresh vegetables, you can look up nutrition information right here on calorieking.com. We have the most reliable food database available.

You can keep track of your carb intake with pen and paper or use our iPhone app HEALTHeDiabetes to make sure you don’t overshoot your targets.

What’s the deal with fiber?

Fiber is the part of plants we don’t digest. Fiber is a type of carbohydrate, but it has practically no effect on blood glucose. It also contains very few calories and helps you feel more full. So foods that are high in fiber are beneficial to you and you should aim for between 20 and 35 grams of fiber every day. Look for foods that contain at least 3 grams of fiber per serving on the Nutrition Facts panel.

There are two kinds of fiber:

  • Insoluble – found in whole grain breads and cereals, nuts and seeds, this kind helps keep your digestive system working smoothly.
  • Soluble – found in oats, oat bran, legumes and some fruits and vegetables, this kind can help lower blood cholesterol and can slow glucose absorption.

How to read the Nutrition Facts panel:

  • Dietary fiber, sugar and sugar alcohols are included in the Total Carbohydrate amount.
  • Dietary fiber can be subtracted from the Total Carbohydrate grams.

What snacks can I eat that won’t cause my blood sugar to spike?

Whether you like savory or sweet, aim for snacks that contain 10-25 grams of carbs. Snacking is not a bad habit as long as you choose nutritious foods. Some healthy snack options:
* carrot sticks with a low-fat dip
* piece of fruit
* crackers with low-fat cheese and tomato slices
* slice of wholegrain toast
* handful of nuts

For packaged snacks, just look at the nutrition facts label to make sure the snack fits in your daily carb target. For foods without a nutrition label, look up the carbohydrate content on CalorieKing.com or use HEALTHeDiabetes.

Can I ever eat sweets again?

Yes, but in moderation. It’s important to manage your weight and sweets are often high in calories. You should also talk to your diabetes health professional to know when to take your medications if you’re going to have the occasional sweet treat. You may need to adjust the timing so that there’s no spike in blood sugar.

Can I drink alcohol?

As with sweets, the answer is yes, but in moderation. That means up to two drinks a day for men and one drink a day for women. Note: Please speak to your diabetes health professional if you are on insulin and drink alcohol, since you may need to adjust your dose.

Always discuss your diet with your diabetes health professional. The information in this article is not a substitute for advice from your diabetes health professional.

Source and accreditation:
The HEALTHeDiabetes iPhone app was developed in partnership with the Joslin Diabetes Center. Part of the content in this article was taken from the HEALTHeDiabetes ‘Learn’ section. General carbohydrate targets as recommended by the American Diabetes Association.