Diabetes Meal Planning for the Metric-Challenged

By Toby Smithson, Alan L. Rubin

It’s a legitimate question: In the U.S., how does someone with diabetes come to grips with the crucial issues of nutrition when he suddenly finds himself expected to think about food as a gram of this and a milligram of that? Americans are used to thinking in terms of ounces and pounds, after all. It’s confusing, and it’s entirely possible that the metric system keeps some people with diabetes resistant to thinking about food in the way that’s necessary to effectively manage their diet.

Americans have a visceral resistance to the metric system, and official attempts for almost 50 years to implement metrication in the U.S. have had no significant impact. It’s just something that doesn’t fit — consider the line, “It took every last 28.349 grams of courage she could find to open that door.” No thanks.

If the metric system of measurements is giving you meal planning brain freeze, here’s the answer — stop trying to make sense of it.

The amount of carbohydrate in foods has little to do with the weight of foods. Sure, it may be the same amount of carbohydrate in an ounce of one potato as another potato, but it’s much different for watermelon, and different still for a slice of bread. In many ways, the carbohydrate grams in different foods are just an abstract number, and if the recommendation for effective diabetes management was to eat, say, 200 atoms of carbohydrate each day, you might find the whole concept easier. Three ounces of potato, 1 1/4 cups cubed watermelon, and one slice of bread each have 15 atoms of carbohydrate — it’s just stuff you need to know.

But, for Americans — proud citizens of one of the three remaining countries still resisting the metric system — the words gram or milligram set off a paralyzing anxiety. If that could be you when it comes to diabetes meal planning, it’s time to relax. Think of the atom, and forget that grams and milligrams are strangely related to the ounces and pounds you know so well. When it comes to planning your carbohydrate food, it’s the ounces, or the cups, or the slices that matter.