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. 

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Medically Reviewed on 10/25/2021
References
SOURCES:

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."