Balancing the Bread: Carbohydrate Counting 101

Balancing the Bread: Carbohydrate Counting 101

In the past thirty years, carbohydrates have experienced a drastic rise and fall in popularity. There has got to be a balance between the high-carb low-fat diets of the eighties and nineties and the low-carb high-protein diets of the 2000s.

For folks with diabetes, finding that balance is especially important.

Carbohydrates, such as breads, pastas, fruits and vegetables, are broken down to glucose during digestion. After a carbohydrate rich meal, blood glucose levels rise. Cells take up the glucose from the blood to use for energy or convert it to fat for storage. Aging is associated with a decrease in glucose tolerance, which means that cells can’t take up the glucose from the blood as efficiently2.  Type II diabetes is diagnosed by high blood glucose levels and occurs in 23.1% of adults 60 years and older3. The American Diabetes Association has published a position statement that supports managing blood glucose levels for type II diabetes4.

Carbohydrate Counting: A Way to Balance Blood Glucose

One way to manage blood glucose levels is carbohydrate counting5. Carbohydrate counting is a little like balancing a check book. It takes some work, but when it comes down to it, it’s just simple math.

  1. Decide on a carbohydrate budget for each meal. You dietitian is your financial advisor in this case; he or she can help you decide what is best for you.  A good place to start is 45-60 grams (3-4 servings of 15 g each) per meal for women and 60-75 grams(4-5 servings of 15 g each) per meal for men.
  2. Find out how many carbohydrates are in the foods you eat. The nutrition facts label is your price tag in this case. Look at the serving size first. All of the information pertains to that serving size. Then look at the grams of total carbohydrates. You can adjust your portion sizes based on how many carbohydrates are in the food and what your carbohydrate budget is.

Carbohydrate counting isn’t for everyone. If you don’t have diabetes or insulin resistance, it’s unnecessary. If you have diabetes but find that carbohydrate counting does not work well for you, you can try the plate method (

Carbohydrates are an important part of everyone’s diet. If you have diabetes, it’s especially important to eat balanced meals, so you’re your blood sugar does not go too high. Carbohydrate counting is one way to achieve this balance. If you don’t have diabetes, it unnecessary to use carbohydrate counting, but you should still try to have balanced meals with carbohydrates, proteins and fats.  To estimate how many carbohydrates you need each day, you can use a carbohydrate calculator (

The Who, What, Why and When of Carbohydrate Counting

Who: Adults with diabetes who decide this will be a useful strategy for them

What: Count your carbs and try to stay within a certain range

Why: For better glycemic control

When: At each meal

Guest Blogger:  Kaitlyn Jongkind


  1. Balance: Street Vendor Turkey. Sol Algranti Photography.
  2. Meneilly, G. Pathophysiology of Diabetes in the Elderly. Clinical Geriatrics 2010; 18; 25-28.
  4. American Diabetes Association: Position statement: Implications of the Diabetes Control and Complications Trial. Diabetes Care 23 (Suppl 1): S24-26, 2000.
  5. GILLESPIE SJ, KULKARNI KD, DALY AE. Using Carbohydrate Counting in Diabetes Clinical Practice. J Am Diet Assoc 1998;98:897-905.