How Many Carbs Should a Diabetic Have in a Day?

Medically Reviewed on 3/3/2022

How many carbs should diabetics eat?

Diabetes is a metabolic illness that affects blood sugar levels. As a diabetic person, you should try to get half of your daily calories from carbs.
Diabetes is a metabolic illness that affects blood sugar levels. As a diabetic person, you should try to get half of your daily calories from carbs.

As a person with diabetes, counting how many carbohydrates you consume daily can be an essential part of your diabetes management. It helps you to control your blood sugar and understand how much sugar and starch are in your food. Doing this helps you plan the best way to eat so you can maintain steady blood sugar throughout the day and avoid fluctuation. Read more to learn about diabetes and carbohydrates. 

As a diabetic person, you should try to get half of your daily calories from carbs. For example, if you consume 1,800 calories daily, you should aim for 900 calories in carbs a day. There are four calories per one gram of carbs, so that means you should aim to eat at least 200 grams of carbs. However, this dramatically differs between people based on how many calories they need to eat to maintain a healthy weight. 

You should consult with a dietician or doctor to determine how many carbs per day you should be eating. Of course, certain lifestyle factors play into that, so make sure you update your provider as needed. Be sure to also get support from your medical team to find healthy recipes that match your carb needs. 

You should eat the same amount of carbs in each meal. This helps keep your blood sugar balanced throughout the day. However, this can be mitigated if you are giving yourself multiple injections of insulin in a day. 

Additionally, based on what type of disease you have, carb counting can be different. The differences are:

  • Type 1 diabetes. If you have type 1, that means your body cannot make insulin anymore. You will need to take your insulin whenever you have carbs to offset them. Carb counting lets you know how much insulin is required and at what time. 
  • Type 2 diabetes. You cannot produce insulin with type 2 diabetes, and you are also resistant to insulin. This means you have to be highly mindful of how many carbs you consume and be disciplined enough to consume the same amount throughout the day. However, you may not have to count as precisely as a type 1 diabetic because you are not using insulin in the same way. 

How do diabetics count carbs?

Carbohydrates are measured in grams. Carb counting is simply counting how many grams of carbs are present in whatever food you are eating. Mealtime insulin should be consistently dosed on an insulin-to-carb ratio. Usually, people who are using insulin through shots or pumps employ an advanced method of carb counting. This is primarily for people with type 1 diabetes, but some people with type 2 can also do it.

Usually, people with type 2 diabetes do not need to track the exact number of carbs in each meal. Instead, they can do a more traditional, generalized version of carb counting to maintain a steady blood sugar level throughout the day. 

A specialized method for this is the “carbohydrate choice” method, in which each type of choice has 15 grams of carbs. Another method for carb counting is the plate method. This is a guide for how to structure the types of foods you choose for each meal. 

The best method for carb counting, of course, is the method that works to treat and manage your own illness. Whichever method you choose should address your specific case of diabetes, be tailored to your body, and work in conjunction with your life and schedule.

How do diabetics find the amount of carbs for their food?

Most food products have food labels, from which you can simply read the number of carbs in them. However, suppose you need to know how many carbs something like a fruit or vegetable has. In that case, there is a wide range of apps, websites, and services from which you can get that information. 

Two things that are important to remember when looking at nutrition labels are:

  • Serving size. Serving sizes are always outlined on the nutrition label, and they are estimates of how much a person should or would eat of the product in one sitting. However, this does not always reflect the amount you eat. Therefore, if you eat more or less of that serving size, you will need to reflect that in your calculations. 
  • Total carbohydrates. Be sure to look at the number of total carbs in whatever you are eating. This number will also include the carbs from the added sugars and other ingredients, so you don’t need to add those into your calculations. However, you should aim to eat food that does not contain added sugar in general. 


Diabetes: What Raises and Lowers Your Blood Sugar Level? See Slideshow

What foods help lower blood sugar quickly?

Blood sugar levels are an important part of our overall health. High blood sugar increases your risk of diabetes, heart disease, and stroke. Knowing the foods you should remove and add to your diet may help you maintain a healthy lifestyle.

High blood sugar is a significant risk factor for diabetes — a health condition that affects how your body converts food into energy. There are two types of diabetes:

  • Type 1 diabetes — which is a genetic condition that prevents your body from making insulin, a hormone that regulates blood sugar levels
  • Type 2 diabetes — in which your body doesn’t use insulin effectively enough to keep blood sugar at normal levels

Between 90 and 95 percent of the population with diabetes have type 2 diabetes. This health condition results from consistently high blood sugar levels over a long period.

Many risk factors can increase your risk of type 2 diabetes. These include being overweight, inactivity, family history, blood cholesterol levels, age, and prediabetes.

Prediabetes is a condition that precedes type 2 diabetes, where your blood sugar is higher than normal, but not high enough to be classified as diabetes. If left untreated, prediabetes can progress to type 2 diabetes.

Diabetes and high blood sugar are also significant risk factors for many chronic conditions, including:

Learning how to reduce your sugar intake can help lower your risk of these coexisting conditions.

Foods and drinks that can reduce your sugar intake

Changing what you eat can have a significant impact on lowering your blood sugar levels. Most of the foods and drinks that can help lower your blood sugar are from natural sources. These include fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and animal products.

Some examples of foods and drinks that can lower blood sugar are:

  • Whole grain bread and pasta
  • Leafy green vegetables
  • Fresh, frozen, or canned fruits
  • Low-fat milk or dairy
  • Lean proteins such as chicken and fish
  • Olive, soybean, or sunflower oil
  • Sugar substitutes and artificial sweeteners

These foods all share a low glycemic index — which identifies foods that can reduce your sugar intake. It's important that you implement these foods into your diets more often than those that have a high glycemic index. Implementing all of these choices in your diet will be effective in lowering your blood sugar levels in the long run.

Foods and drinks you should avoid

To reduce your blood sugar, you must focus on which and how much carbs you eat every day. Some examples of foods and drinks you may want to avoid are:

  • Refined grains
  • High processed carbohydrates
  • Sugary drinks
  • Red and processed meats
  • Alcohol

Other dietary choices to make are to reduce your sugar intake, avoid adding excess salt while cooking, and limit your caffeine consumption. These choices can help to lower your blood pressure, and in turn, help lower your blood sugar.

Some foods that may increase your risk of high blood sugar may be safe in small portions. There's even consistent evidence that moderate alcohol consumption may actually reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes.

Consult with your doctor to see what dietary restrictions may work the best for you.

Lifestyle choices

Simple lifestyle changes can effectively lower your blood sugar as well. The first change you can make is taking some time for exercise every day. Some good ways to get moving include walking, biking, swimming, and dancing. Try to aim for at least 30 minutes of activity every day.

Another effective lifestyle change that can help lower your blood sugar is reducing portion sizes. There are several ways to achieve this change easily.

Try to drink a large glass of water with every meal and share a dessert with a family member or friend. You may also find it beneficial to eat more slowly.

Below is an example of how your plate could look for a full, healthy meal:

  • Proteins, one-fourth part
  • Grains, one-fourth part
  • Vegetables and fruits, half part
  • Dairy (low-fat), a moderate amount

This lifestyle change can help you reduce your sugar intake and increase your satiety — or feeling of fullness.

Try to implement these lifestyle changes slowly, progressing every week until you reach your goal. Before you start, make sure to consult with your doctor so that you can maintain a healthy lifestyle.

Medically Reviewed on 3/3/2022
American Diabetes Association: "Carb Counting and Diabetes."

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "Carb Counting."

University of Michigan Health: "Diabetes: Counting Carbs if You Don't Use Insulin."

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "What is Diabetes?"

Harvard School of Public Health: "The Nutrition Source - Simple Steps to Preventing Diabetes."

Mayo Clinic: "Type 2 diabetes."

National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases: "Choose More than 50 Ways to Prevent Type 2 Diabetes."

U.S. National Library of Medicine – National Institutes of Health: "The prevention and control the type-2 diabetes by changing lifestyle and dietary pattern."