Carbohydrate Tracking Plans for Diabetes Management

Three Methods for Carbohydrate Tracking

Bread, pasta, crackers, bagels, popcorn
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People with diabetes need to manage what they eat, particularly how many carbohydrates they eat. Carbohydrates are found in fruits, vegetables, grains, and sugary foods, and are the nutrient that impact blood sugars the most. The amount of carbohydrates one must eat differs from person to person and can be dependent on gender, size, activity level and medication regimens. And while there is no one size fits all diet plan that works for managing diabetes and weight, there are different types of carbohydrate tracking methods that can help you to keep carbohydrates and blood sugars at goal.

These include the older, but easy to use --exchange plan, counting carbohydrates in grams and consistent carbohydrate diet. 

Tracking your food intake can help you to eat similarly daily which can provide information on how your body responds to food. Knowing how foods affect your blood sugar gives you the tools to maintain better control. Keeping track of carbohydrates is something that people with either Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes should do.

Before You Start:

Carbohydrates are the most important part of the food you eat. They directly affect your blood glucose almost immediately after you eat them. All three tracking methods below help you keep your carbs in balance. 15 grams of carbohydrate equals one carbohydrate choice. How do you know what 15 grams of carbs is? It's not always easy. First, set up an appointment with a dietitian or certified diabetes educator, if you can. Also, most food labels list nutrition facts list carbs.

There are also books, apps, and online resources to help you figure it all out.

Exchange Meal Plan:

This is an older version of counting carbohydrates but can still be used successfully.

This plan divides food into six categories: starches, fruits, vegetables, milk, meat, and fats. You will be given a certain amount of carbohydrate exchanges per meal and can use them as you like. The serving sizes listed have similar amounts of calories, proteins, carbohydrates, and fats. There is a food list to help you see what category your food falls into. It's called the exchange plan because it offers you the flexibility to trade one food on the list for a similar food. For example: exchanging 3/4 cup of cold cereal for a half of an English muffin. Exchange food lists are available from your dietitian. They can also be found in books, or online.

Counting Carbohydrates:

Carbohydrate counting can seem like a daunting task at first, but once you get used to it, things become much easier. When you are counting carbohydrates per gram, all carbohydrates count. For example, if 3/4 cup of cereal is 22 g of carbohydrate you will count those 22 g of carbohydrate, as opposed to counting them as one exchange.

Counting carbohydrates is a more flexible plan and reliable eating plan because it is more precise. This is especially important for people who take insulin based on their carbohydrate intake. For these people, you can adjust your dose according to the amount of carbs you are going to eat at that meal. The units of insulin per grams of carbs are figured out by your doctor or dietitian based on your body's response to carbs. This requires careful tracking and blood glucose testing to see how carbs affect your blood sugar. To learn how to count carbohydrates you can meet with a registered dietitian or certified diabetes educator who can teach where carbohydrates come from, how to measure foods that do not have labels, how to read labels and what resources to use to count carbohydrates. Sometimes people are surprised as to what foods contain carbohydrates

Consistent Carbohydrate Diet:

Most people with diabetes would benefit from eating a consistent carbohydrate diet. When following a consistent carbohydrate diet, you can assess how your body responds to certain foods and figure out which foods you may need to avoid. This type of diet can also help to figure out medication dosing. A dietitian or your doctor will help you establish how many carbs you should eat every day. Usually, insulin or other diabetes medication doses also remain constant. You keep the number of carbohydrates the same at each meal, but don't need to eat the same foods daily. Try to keep your daily eating and exercise routine the same.

Summing It Up:

No matter which method you use, remember to check blood glucose levels often and write down the numbers and also how many carbs you have eaten that day. Good record keeping will give you and your doctor an accurate picture of how effective your food plan and medication schedule are. And that helps you maintain good control and keep your numbers in the right.


Clark RD, LD, Amanda, Stephanie Kovarick, RD, LD, CDE, Melissa Voigt, BA, and Joy Hayes, MS, RD, LD, CDE. "Using the Website as a Tool for Diabetes Self-Management Education." Diabetes Spectrum 2006 19:122-126. 11 Jan. 2006.

"Meal Plans and Diabetes." Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh. Apr 2005. Kids Health. 11 Jan 2007.

American Diabetes Association. Standards of Medical Care in Diabetes – 2016. Diabetes Care. 2016 Jan; 39 Suppl 1: S1-112.

Updated by Barbie Cervoni MS, RD, CDE on April 6, 2016

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