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Carb counting: It's not just for insulin users anymore

Has your doctor talked to you about watching the carbohydrates in the foods you eat? For a long time, people thought that counting carbohydrates wasn't necessary for those with type 2 diabetes, but that thinking is changing.

If you have a target number of carbs to eat at each meal or snack, accurately estimating carbohydrates can help you keep your numbers within your target range.1 It may help you avoid gaining weight and, by keeping your blood glucose in range, help you feel your best.2,3 Keep in mind that these carb and blood glucose targets aren't the same for everyone—what works for you may make another person's blood sugars fluctuate all over the map.

At first, counting carbs can be a little challenging. Foods with multiple ingredients can be difficult to guesstimate, and official serving sizes often have no relationship to the servings we actually see. We can be surprised how many "healthy" foods are high in carbs and how many "unhealthy" foods aren't.1 And, as many parents have learned, a "cup of milk" to a preteen boy may be whatever fits in an actual cup—somewhere between 8 and 24 ounces.

Here are a few strategies for boosting your carb counting skills:

  • Read the label. Sometimes the carb count is right there in front of you. Take a sec to check.
  • Get out the cups. Measure your breakfast cereal. Weigh your pasta before it goes in the pot. Get a good sense of what a serving really looks like. Don't go more than a month or so without refreshing your memory, so those portions don't have a chance to grow.
  • Make a mental note. Once you've seen how a 3/4 cup serving of Bran-Os fits in your cereal bowl, you'll be in a better position to wing it.
  • Try your hand. Most people's palms are about the size of a 3- or 4-ounce portion. Your thumb is probably about a tablespoon. And your cupped hand can hold about a half cup.3
  • Use a calculator. You can find complete nutritional data from Web sites or apps such as MyFitnessPal® or Calorie Counter PRO.

Once you're comfortable counting carbs, there are ACCU-CHEK products and tools that can help you enhance blood glucose control.

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1Hall M. Understanding advanced carbohydrate counting—a useful tool for some patients to improve blood glucose control. Today's Dietitian. 15(12):40, 2013. Available at: Accessed April 27, 2016.

2Watts SA, Anselmo JM, Kern E. Validating the AdultCarbQuiz: a test of carbohydrate- counting knowledge for adults with diabetes. Diabetes Spectrum. 24(3):154–160, 2011. Available at: Accessed April 27, 2016.

3Polonsky WH. Diabetes Burnout: What to Do When You Can't Take It Anymore. Alexandria, VA: American Diabetes Association; 1999.

MyFitnessPal is a registered trademark of Under Armour, Inc.

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