Carbohydrate Counting - What Parents Should Know

Making it Easier to Balance Food and Insulin

Pasta and Bread

Carbohydrate counting is used by many people with type 1 diabetes to help balance food intake with insulin. It is a relatively simple process once you understand how it works. Though it is not the only way to manage food intake, most parents of children with diabetes find carbohydrate counting a very useful tool for meal planning and insulin adjustments.

Let’s start with the basics.

What Are Carbohydrates?

A carbohydrate is considered one of the three main nutrients (others are fats and proteins) that your body needs for healthy functioning.

Carbohydrates are the primary source of energy for your body and are starches and sugars that can be found in common foods such as breads, cereals, pasta, rice, milk, yogurt, fruit, desserts and some starchy vegetables (potatoes, corn and peas).

Once food containing carbohydrates is eaten, our bodies break these carbs down into sugar (glucose) that is used for energy. But, when you have type 1 diabetes, your body does not make enough insulin to process the sugar obtained from the food you’ve eaten. That’s why you need to get your insulin from injections or an insulin pump.

Why Count Carbohydrates?

We count carbohydrates because it allows us to closely predict how the food we eat may raise blood sugar. We can then give a corresponding amount of insulin to try and keep our blood sugar in a reasonably good range. Counting carbs is appealing to parents of children with type 1 because it takes a lot of the guesswork out of how much insulin to give a child.

It also allows for flexibility to incorporate a wide range of foods into a child’s diet.

What Do I Need to Know Before Beginning Carbohydrate Counting?

You first need a meal plan for your child. This usually involves meeting with a registered dietician to assess your child’s developmental needs (age, level of physical activity, special needs, etc.) to determine the appropriate number of carbohydrates.

This plan will include an average target number of carbohydrates per meal/snack and a total for the entire day. These target numbers are essential to know and act as a reference for all of your carb counting.

You will also need to know how to calculate the number of carbohydrates in common foods your child regularly eats. More on that and the nuts and bolts of carbohydrate counting in Getting Started with Carbohydrate Counting.


Carb Counting. American Diabetes Association. Accessed February 10, 2009.

Carbohydrate Counting. Joslin Diabetes Center. Accessed February 10, 2009.