Learning About Carbohydrate (Carb) Counting and Eating Out When You Have Diabetes

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Why plan your meals?

Meal planning can be a key part of managing diabetes. Planning meals and snacks with the right balance of carbohydrate, protein, and fat can help you keep your blood sugar at the target level you set with your doctor.

You don't have to eat special foods. You can eat what your family eats, including sweets once in a while. But you do have to pay attention to how often you eat and how much you eat of certain foods.

You may want to work with a dietitian or a diabetes educator. They can give you tips and meal ideas and can answer your questions about meal planning. This health professional can also help you reach a healthy weight if that is one of your goals.

What should you know about eating carbs?

Managing the amount of carbohydrate (carbs) you eat is an important part of healthy meals when you have diabetes. Carbohydrate is found in many foods.

  • Learn which foods have carbs. And learn the amounts of carbs in different foods.
    • Bread, cereal, pasta, and rice have about 15 grams of carbs in a serving. A serving is 1 slice of bread (1 ounce), ½ cup of cooked cereal, or 1/3 cup of cooked pasta or rice.
    • Fruits have 15 grams of carbs in a serving. A serving is 1 small fresh fruit, such as an apple or orange; ½ of a banana; ½ cup of cooked or canned fruit; ½ cup of fruit juice; 1 cup of melon or raspberries; or 2 tablespoons of dried fruit.
    • Milk and no-sugar-added yogurt have 15 grams of carbs in a serving. A serving is 1 cup of milk or 3/4 cup (6 oz) of no-sugar-added yogurt.
    • Starchy vegetables have 15 grams of carbs in a serving. A serving is ½ cup of mashed potatoes or sweet potato; 1 cup winter squash; ½ of a small baked potato; ½ cup of cooked beans; or ½ cup cooked corn or green peas.
  • Learn how much carbs to eat each day and at each meal. A dietitian or certified diabetes educator can teach you how to keep track of the amount of carbs you eat. This is called carbohydrate counting.
  • If you are not sure how to count carbohydrate grams, use the plate method to plan meals. It is a quick way to make sure that you have a balanced meal. It also can help you manage the amount of carbohydrate you eat at meals.
    • Divide your plate by types of foods. Put non-starchy vegetables on half the plate, protein foods on a fourth of the plate, and carbohydrate foods on the final fourth of the plate.
  • Try to eat about the same amount of carbs at each meal. Do not "save up" your daily allowance of carbs to eat at one meal.
  • Proteins have very little or no carbs. Examples of proteins are beef, chicken, turkey, fish, eggs, tofu, cheese, cottage cheese, and peanut butter.

How can you eat out and still eat healthy?

  • Learn to estimate the serving sizes of foods that have carbohydrate. If you measure food at home, it will be easier to estimate the amount in a serving of restaurant food.
  • If the meal you order has too much carbohydrate (such as potatoes, corn, or baked beans), ask to have a low-carbohydrate food instead. Ask for a salad or non-starchy vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, green beans, or peppers.
  • If you eat more carbohydrate at a meal than you had planned, take a walk or do other exercise. This will help lower your blood sugar.

What are some tips for eating healthy?

  • Limit saturated fat, such as the fat from meat and dairy products. This is a healthy choice because people who have diabetes are at higher risk of heart disease. So choose lean cuts of meat and nonfat or low-fat dairy products. Use olive or canola oil instead of butter or shortening when cooking.
  • Don't skip meals. Your blood sugar may drop too low if you skip meals and take insulin or certain medicines for diabetes.
  • Check with your doctor before you drink alcohol. Alcohol can cause your blood sugar to drop too low. Alcohol can also cause a bad reaction if you take certain diabetes medicines.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

Where can you learn more?

Go to http://www.healthwise.net/patientEd

Enter I147 in the search box to learn more about "Learning About Carbohydrate (Carb) Counting and Eating Out When You Have Diabetes".

The Health Encyclopedia contains general health information. Not all treatments or services described are covered benefits for Kaiser Permanente members or offered as services by Kaiser Permanente. For a list of covered benefits, please refer to your Evidence of Coverage or Summary Plan Description. For recommended treatments, please consult with your health care provider.