Carbohydrate counting involves estimating and monitoring carbohydrate intake. This helps people with diabetes to manage their Blood Glucose Levels (BGLs), spread their intake of carbohydrates evenly across the day and determine their required dose of quick acting insulin (if required).
Carbohydrate counting is a useful tool to maximise food choice, health and wellbeing, and quality of life. Good knowledge of carbohydrate-rich foods will assist with good glycaemic control and help prevent long term complications.
How do I count my carbohydrates?
Although it may take some practice, counting your carbs only requires the three simple steps below.
Weigh or measure the portion of food/drink you are going to consume. This can be done using scales, measuring cups, measuring spoons or reading the nutrition information panel.
Find the carbohydrate content of the food/drink using the nutrition information panel or a Carbohydrate Counter Reference Guide. Calorie King Australia, Easy Diet Diary and Carb Counting with Lenny are excellent Carbohydrate Counter Reference Guide mobile apps (and they are free!).
Calculate the carbohydrate content of the portion of food/drink you are going to consume using the values you found in step 1 and 2 (weight/measurement and carbohydrate content).
Let’s try calculating the carbohydrate content of one slice of wholemeal bread.
1. Find the carbohydrate content of the bread using either the per serving or per 100g/100ml column within the nutrition information panel.
Using the per serve column, 2 slices of bread contains 33.7g of carbohydrates. Using the 100g/100ml column, 100g of bread contains 40.6g of carbohydrates.
2. Calculate the carbohydrate content of the portion of bread you are going to consume.
Using the per serve column: 2 slices of bread contains 33.7g of carbohydrates. If we divide this by 2, we can determine that 1 slice of bread contains 16.9g of carbohydrates.
33.7g (carbohydrates in 2 slices of bread) ÷ 2= 16.9g (carbohydrates in 1 slice of bread)
It is common for people with diabetes to count their carbohydrates using carbohydrate exchanges. A carbohydrate exchange is the amount of food that contains approximately 15g of carbohydrate (National Diabetes Services Scheme, 2016). From the example above, we can see that the slice of bread contains around 15g of carbohydrates and is therefore considered one carbohydrate exchange.
What is 1 carbohydrate exchange?
1 slice of wholemeal bread
1 small roti or chapatti with wholemeal flour
½ a wholemeal bread roll
½ a wholemeal wrap
½ a wholemeal pita bread
Rice, pasta, grains and flour
½ cup of cooked wholemeal pasta or noodles
1/3 cup of cooked rice, cous cous, quinoa, barley or bulgur
2 wheat biscuits
1/3 cup rolled oats (raw)
¼ cup natural muesli
2 thick or 3 thin rice/corn cakes
1 small potato
½ cup mashed potato
½ cup sweet potato
½ cup corn kernels
1 medium corn cob
1 small banana or mango
1 medium apple, pear, peach or orange
2 small mandarins, kiwi fruits, plums or small nectarines
2 small apricots
1 cup of berries, cherries or drained canned fruit
½ cup of grapes
4 dried dates or prunes
Dairy and alternatives
1 cup of milk
200g natural yoghurt
½ cup low-fat custard
Lean meat and alternatives
¾ cup cooked or canned lentils
½ cup chickpeas, kidney beans, cannellini beans or baked beans
If you will like to tailor your diet to suit your recommended number of carbohydrate exchanges for optimal blood glucose levels, make an appointment to chat with me www.nourishadl.com/dietitian
Co-authored by Charlotte Manning, student dietitian
Reviewed by Rebecca Greco, dietitian
National Diabetes Services Scheme. (2016). Carbohydrate Counting and Diabetes. Australia: NDSS.
Nutrition Education Materials Online. (2019). Carbohydrate Counting. Australia: Queensland Government.