Carb Counting Your Way to Managing Diabetes

by Helenkay Smith, MS, RDN, LDN, Fitness and Wellness Center at Passavant Community

According to the American Diabetes Association, 29 million Americans have diabetes, and 86 million more are at risk.

If you have been told you have diabetes, it is in your best interest to keep your hemoglobin A1c under control. A HgbA1c is a simple blood test that shows how well you are managing your numbers.

WHAT DO THE NUMBERS MEAN? A HgbA1c value less than 5.7 percent is a normal reading. A reading between 5.7 and 6.4 percent is a call to action! This is a pre-diabetes phase when you can do something about reversing the negative health trend that will otherwise turn into full-blown diabetes. A reading greater than 5.7 percent is considered Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus.

If you have had diabetes for a while (either Type 1 or Type 2), you may already know that controlling HgbA1c will reduce the risk of health complications from diabetes.


  • Move more! Aim for at least 30 minutes a day, five times a week. Any type of activity will do.
  • Eat balanced meals with proper portion sizes.
  • Be consistent with carbohydrate intake throughout the day.
  • Avoid processed foods and highly sugared drinks.
  • Check your blood sugars regularly. Keeping a daily log will help. Controlling HgbA1c means keeping daily blood sugars in the desirable range of 70-100 mg/dl.

WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO EAT A CONSISTENT CARB INTAKE? Consuming consistent amounts of foods containing carbohydrates at mealtime and snacks will supply a steady blood sugar level without large peaks and valleys. Keeping your blood sugar on an even keel will prevent spikes in your blood sugar.

WHICH FOODS CONTAIN CARBS? These are the usual suspects:

  • Grains and starchy foods such as bread, cereal, crackers, rice, quinoa, pasta
  • Starchy vegetables including corn, peas, lima beans, kidney beans and potatoes
  • Milk, yogurt, whole fruit, canned fruit (packed in water or juice), dried fruit, unsweetened fruit juice

Sweets are certainly carb-containing foods that little nutritional value beyond providing some energy. These should be limited to small amounts infrequently, but should be counted as part of the carb group.

HOW MUCH CARBOHYDRATES ARE ENOUGH? This varies with each individual and is based on a person’s height, weight and activity level. A registered dietitian nutritionist can help you calculate exactly how much you need. In general, you need a certain number of carb servings per meal, per snack and for the entire day. This will help you manage the “consistent” factor. Short of having an exact calculation, a good guide for most older adults is as follows:

Carb limits           Women                           Men

Per Meal              2-3 carb servings              3-5 carb servings

Per Snack             1-2 carb servings              1-2 carb servings

You can also keep track of carbs by counting grams of carbohydrate per serving, in which case 15 grams of carbohydrate equals one carb serving. Therefore, if you are to have 2-3 carb servings per meal, that’s 30-45 grams of carbohydrate.

You can utilize the factor of “15 grams of carbohydrate = 1 carb serving” to your advantage when looking at food labels. Check out the serving size then find the number of carbohydrates for each serving size. Divide the total number of grams of carbohydrates by 15 and you will have the number of carb servings in the manufacturer’s serving size. For example, if the label states that there are 31 grams of carbohydrate per serving, then the product has two carbs in a serving size.

Carb counting can help you maintain a consistent carb intake throughout the day by targeting carb goals per meal, snack and during the day, whether you count the number of carb servings or whether you rely on counting grams of carbohydrate. Know your goals per meal, per snack and per day.

If you would like help determining your daily carb goals, connect with a registered dietitian nutritionist.