Calculating Portion Sizes for Diabetes-Related Nutrition

For diabetes-related nutrition the emphasis is on 15-gram portions of total carbohydrate, also known as a carb choice, or a starch, milk, or fruit exchange. Carbohydrates have a direct effect on blood glucose levels, and your intake of carbohydrates affects how well your diabetes medication works, too.

Your meal plan specifies how many carb choices, or how many grams of carbohydrate, you should have at each meal, most likely three to five carb choices (45 to 75 grams) depending on your calorie requirements. From there you can easily put together the carbohydrate portion of your meals.

You can estimate/calculate a 15-gram-carbohydrate choice from nutrition facts labels by manipulating the label’s serving size into a 15-carbohydrate-grams portion size. The nutrition facts label for linguine salad shown has 24 grams carbohydrate in the 1/2 cup serving size. Estimating, you could say that if 1/2 cup is 24 grams then 1/4 cup is 12 grams, and 15 grams is slightly more than 1/4 cup.

Calculating, you can multiply 24 grams by 2 to find the total carbohydrate in a one cup serving is 48 grams. Dividing 48 grams by 15 grams equals 3.2 carb choices (about 3) per cup, so 1/3 cup would be very close. In fact, 48 grams per cup divided by 3 equals 16 grams carbohydrate per 1/3 cup portion.

The label serving size is 1/2 cup, but the 15 gram carb portion is about 1/3 cup. You may be glad to know that 1/4 cup works just as well.

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If your head hurts you’ll be glad to know that measuring appropriate portions of carbohydrate is really easier, but it does require knowing what measure of which food equals 15 carbohydrate grams.

Here’s where memory, reference books, cheat sheets, experience, or that personal assistant come in. One tablespoon of pure maple syrup is considered a carb choice, but you can measure about 3 full cups of raw, nonstarchy vegetables (cucumbers, broccoli, bell peppers, green beans, and so on) before you get one 15-gram-carb choice (that’s why healthy eating includes lots of vegetables).

One Carbohydrate Choice for Common Foods
Food Description Measure
Sugar or concentrated syrups 1 tablespoon
Oatmeal, dry 1/4 cup
Grains (rice, barley, etc.), cooked 1/3 cup
Pasta, cooked 1/3 cup
Beans and peas (starchy vegetables) 1/2 cup
Fresh fruits 1/2 to 1-1/4 cup
White potato 1/2 cup or 3 ounces
Bread 1 slice
Milk 1 cup
Yogurt 3/4 cup
Nonstarchy vegetables cooked 1-1/2 cups

Common carbohydrate foods like those shown are easy to remember with experience, but a nutrition facts label or a pocket-sized carbohydrate reference book is an absolute must for deciphering food like the linguine salad if you intend to manage diabetes well.

Portion sizes for protein and fat share one thing in common. Both should be smaller than what most Americans picture. A healthy meal plan for diabetes management may recommend 4 to 6 ounces of protein food (lean meat, tofu, cheese, nuts, and eggs) per day, equaling about one-half of the daily protein recommendation (85 grams for the 1,700 calories per day plan).

The rest of your daily protein comes from low-fat dairy (milk and yogurt) and from carbohydrate foods containing protein.

You’re also likely to get much of your recommended fat from other foods, including meat, nuts, low-fat dairy, cheese, and carbohydrate foods. Some of this dietary fat is the unhealthier saturated variety, but a healthy diet focuses on sources of healthier unsaturated fat. Sources of fat not included in another food group include oils, butter and margarine, and salad dressings. In general, choose low-fat versions of food, and use oils sparingly.

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