Diabetes & Carb Counting For Dummies
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Controlling blood-glucose levels, a necessity if you have diabetes, requires having a handle on carb intake. It helps to problem-solve situations in advance and go into the day with a plan for how to best manage meals and snacks. These tips may help you strategize.

Use measuring cups to control portion sizes

Measuring cups can be used to dish up a serving from the stovetop to your plate. The stackable versions come in various portion sizes. Scoop up the desired amount of food with the appropriate cup, level off the top, and put it on your plate. Precision at home also trains your eye so you can be a better guesser when it isn't possible to measure, such as in a restaurant.

If you frequently have rice at home, buy a rice bowl that holds an appropriate amount, such as a cup. If you fill it to the correct level (not mounded), you automatically know you are having a cup each time you eat from that bowl. Use a measuring cup to find out how much your cereal bowls, cups, and glasses hold. Then whenever you use those dishes, your portion will be a known quantity.

Weigh fruits in advance to watch carbs

The Exchange Lists say a small apple or a medium peach each count as one fruit exchange equaling 15 grams of carb. Estimating is okay, especially if you have type 2 diabetes; just keep in mind that a small fruit is the size of a tennis ball and a medium fruit is the size of a baseball.

If you have type 1 diabetes, it pays to weigh. At least weigh enough examples to hone your eyeballing skills. If you weigh a few bananas, you'll be able to estimate more accurately in the future. Multiple apps and websites provide nutrient details for foods by weight. Calorie King is easily accessible online or via their app.

Another reliable nutrient database can be found in the USDA Food Composition Databases. They provide the details per 100 grams of the food's weight. When converting the weight of your food, keep in mind that there are 28 grams to an ounce.

Have a carb-counting contest

When a child, teen, or young adult has diabetes, transferring the carb-counting skill set from adult to offspring is a worthwhile teaching process. Otherwise, when kids take off for college and parental support isn't readily available, they may be in for a rude awakening.

One strategy to get everyone involved in carb counting is to make a game out of it. Why not have a carb-counting contest? For example, each person at the family meal serves up his own starch portion such as pasta or rice, and then everyone eyeballs his plate and announces his guess. After all estimates are announced, the carb foods are scooped into a measuring cup to assess the actual carb count. Set up a reward in advance, such as "Whoever guesses closest doesn't have to do the dishes or take out the garbage."

Make better, carb-conscious breakfast choices

Start your day right by choosing wisely for the morning meal. Steer clear of breakfast options that are loaded with sugar and fat. Try the following ideas:

  • Limit the sugar in cereal to less than 6 grams per serving (the lower the better). Choose cereals with 3 or more grams of fiber.
  • Opt for the oats you cook yourself rather than the instant varieties, but if you do buy instant, choose plain instead of sweetened.
  • Skip the Danish, sticky buns, and anything frosted. Try whole-grain toast with jam instead.
  • Have a carton of yogurt; compare labels to assess carb counts, fat content, and calories.
  • Whole-grain toaster waffles aren't bad, but skip the syrup. There are nearly 60 grams of sugar per 1/4 cup of syrup. You can limit the carbs in the toppings to 15 grams or less if you top waffles or pancakes with 1/2 cup of applesauce or yogurt, or a cup of strawberries and a little whipped topping.
  • Limit bacon and sausage, which are full of saturated fat, and choose lean ham, Canadian bacon, or vegetarian links instead.
  • Replace juices and smoothies with a cup of fresh fruit. Sweeten coffee and tea with a nonnutritive sweetener rather than sugar.

Pack your lunch to control carbs

Packing your own lunch makes it so much easier to control your carb intake. You can measure it all out at home and count carbs precisely. Use ice packs for perishable foods and keep hot foods hot in a thermos. If you want to keep it easy, check your local supermarket for prepared salads, or healthy fresh or frozen meals that can be microwaved (many have Nutrition Facts labels).

Choose carbs wisely at the deli

Perhaps you want to grab lunch at your local deli. No problem! Here are some tips for eating at the deli while watching your carb intake:
  • Delis have food scales. Ask them to weigh your roll before making your sandwich. Bread has about 14 grams of carb per ounce. Many deli-sized rolls used for sandwiches weigh about 4 ounces, which would count as 56 grams of carb (14 grams of carb multiplied by 4).
  • The meat, cheese, mustard, mayo, and crunchy veggies don't really contribute much carb. Skip fatty meats like salami and bacon and choose chicken, turkey, ham, or lean roast beef. Or make it a veggie sandwich with avocado.
  • If you find yourself reaching for a bag of chips, opt for a small bag of baked chips. If you want a side dish, consider a green salad or a piece of fresh fruit.
  • Choose diet drinks or unsweetened iced tea rather than sugary beverages.

Consider the carbs in condiments

All too often the carb content of condiments and sauces is ignored when it should be counted. While a swipe of ketchup across a bun is insignificant, having 1/4 cup of ketchup with your fries is not; it contributes about 15 grams of carb. Two tablespoons of barbeque sauce can pack in 20–25 grams of carbs. Don't forget to count the spaghetti sauce; it varies, but has roughly 15 grams of carb per 1/2 cup.

When using insulin-to-carb ratios, you should be as accurate as possible with your carb counting; otherwise, your dose may be incorrect. Nothing is as frustrating as doing 95 percent of the work and not achieving the blood-glucose result you were hoping for. Don't be sabotaged by the sauces! Check the Nutrition Facts food labels or use your computer's search engine to do a search for the carb count. You can also download an app that provides carb counts so you can make an educated guess.

Fit in a favorite low-carb dessert

Sugar-free gelatin is a freebie that you can have anytime you want. Add a dollop of whipped topping and decorate with a sliced strawberry if desired. There are other desserts that may satisfy your sweet tooth with just 15 grams of carb or less. Read labels on packaged puddings, cookies, and frozen desserts. The trick is to limit yourself to a small serving and not go back for more.

Plan and portion healthy snacks

If you don't pre-plan snacks and bring appropriate options with you, you place yourself at the mercy of whatever you can grab while you're out. Snacks can end up being too high in calories, carbs, fat, and sodium if you aren't careful. Finding a healthy snack isn't always easy when you're choosing from vending machines, convenience stores, and coffee shops.

Curb late-night snacking

Late dinners and evening snacking can raise blood-glucose levels unless you walk it off or fit in some exercise. Glucose levels may remain elevated throughout the evening and even overnight and into the next day. Evenings are often times of relaxation. Snacking in front of the television or simply out of boredom can derail diabetes and weight-control efforts.

Eat dinner at least three to four hours before going to bed and limit evening snacking to something small. Popcorn isn't a bad choice. A three-cup portion has only 15 grams of carb.

About This Article

This article is from the book:

About the book author:

Sherri Shafer, RD, CDE, is a senior registered dietitian and a certified diabetes educator at the University of California San Francisco Medical Center. She teaches diabetes self-management workshops and provides nutrition counseling for individuals with type 1 diabetes, type 2 diabetes, prediabetes, and gestational dia-betes. She is also the author of Diabetes Type 2: Complete Food Management Program.

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