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Diabetes Management: What is Carbohydrate Counting?

Animation Copyright © Milner-Fenwick


Pastas, whole grains, fruits, vegetables, milk, ice cream, candy, cakes, cookies, pretzels & the list goes on and on. These are carbohydrate foods and we love to eat them. However, carbohydrates have the greatest effect on your blood glucose.

When you eat carbohydrates, they are turned into glucose and used for energy now, or stored in your cells for later use. Fifteen minutes to one and a half hours after you eat carbohydrates, your blood sugar, also called blood glucose, will rise.

If your blood glucose is often high, over time you are at an increased risk for long-term health problems, including: heart disease, stroke, eye disease, kidney disease and amputation.

Your body needs the energy that carbohydrates provide so cutting them out is not an option. Instead, you can learn to better control the amount of carbohydrates you eat, what types of carbohydrates you eat, and when you eat them, to help prevent long-term health problems. This is called carbohydrate counting.

To begin carbohydrate counting, meet with your diabetes care team. Together, you will develop the tools you need to successfully use carbohydrate counting to control your blood glucose.

You can start by choosing healthy carbohydrate foods. Foods high in refined sugar or processed with white flour, like: cakes, cookies, pies, candies and desserts are usually high in carbohydrate. These should be enjoyed only in small amounts because they usually offer little or no nutritional value and can raise your blood glucose quickly.

Instead, choose healthy carbohydrates like fresh fruits and vegetables. Just make sure to measure your portion sizes. A small apple does not have the same amount of carbohydrates as a large apple and will not raise your blood glucose as high.

Another healthy way to get your daily carbohydrates is through whole grains and legumes. These carbohydrate choices can be high in fiber, which tend to fill you up, and help you feel full longer while not raising your blood glucose as fast as other carbohydrates. This is a benefit when trying to manage your diabetes.

Choose fresh, high fiber carbohydrates, like whole wheat pasta or brown rice. Look for cereal made from whole grains. Many companies today are beginning to offer whole grain options that will make your decisions in the grocery store a little easier.

Carbohydrates affect your blood glucose. To better control your diabetes and still enjoy carbohydrate foods, begin to carbohydrate count. Choose healthy carbohydrates like fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Measure your portions and check your blood glucose regularly to ensure you are keeping your blood glucose in your target range.

Animation Copyright © Milner-Fenwick