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How Many Carbs for a Diabetic Diet?

By Faith McGee ; Updated July 27, 2017

According to the American Diabetes Association, learning more about the way carbohydrates affect blood glucose levels is the main factor behind getting control of diabetes. There are three general ways to regulate the amount of carbohydrates you eat: counting carbohydrates, following the glycemic index and using the plate method. Always ask your physician before following one method for carb intake. Find out more about what method may be right for you.

Carbohydrate Counting

The American Diabetes Association recommends eating 45 to 65 grams of carbohydrates during a meal. Talk to your doctor about the amount that would be beneficial to your blood glucose levels. Carbohydrates are found in most food that exclude meat, chicken, fish, pork or shellfish.

The best plan is to keep a carbohydrate journal with you to record how many carbohydrates your meals contain. Spend time studying how many carbohydrates are in your favorite foods and portion sizes. For example, one-third cup of pasta or rice has 15 grams of carbohydrates, so filling up your plate with spaghetti will put you over your carbohydrate limit.

When looking at food labels, take notice of the amount of carbohydrates per serving. Also, check out the amount of calories and fat in the food item. Many diabetics are overweight and are on calorie-restricted diets. If you have problems finding out how many carbohydrates you should eat, ask your doctor to recommend a nutritionist to help you plan meals.

Glycemic Index

The glycemic index measures how much a carbohydrate-containing food can elevate blood insulin levels. This technique for controlling how many carbohydrates a diabetic eats was invented in 1981 by David Jenkins and Thomas Wolever of the University of Toronto. The method consist of pairing a food with a high glycemic rating with a food with a low glycemic rating. High glycemic foods are pastas, starchy vegetables, rice and breads. Low glycemic rated foods are legumes, peas, non-starchy vegetables, most fruits and whole grains. Eating a high glycemic food by itself can cause blood sugar levels to sour and drop; however, with a low-glycemic food you are able to maintain blood sugar levels. Watch out for portion size when eating carbohydrates, because even if a food is low glycemic too much of it can cause blood sugar to rise.

The Plate Method

The plate method is one of the easiest ways to control the amount of carbohydrates you eat in meals. Take a dinner plate and imagine a vertical line down the middle. Then on one side, cut it again so your plate is broken up into three compartments. Fill the largest side with non-starchy vegetables like spinach, green beans, lettuce, mushrooms or cauliflower. Fill one of the smaller sides with a starchy food like potatoes, whole grain pasta, brown rice or whole grain bread. For the final compartment, add a lean protein like skinless chicken, turkey, tofu, fish, shrimp or eggs. Add dairy to the meal with either an 8 oz. glass of low-fat milk or a 6 oz. container of yogurt. Also, include one piece of medium-sized fruit like an apple. The plate method is generally one of the first ways a newly diagnosed diabetic can use to control her carbohydrates and food portions.

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