No matter what type of diabetes you are contending with, it is well worth the effort to learn how to carb count. As a certified diabetes educator and registered dietitian (RD) I routinely encourage my clients with diabetes to choose their carbs wisely and limit them in accordance with their individualized needs, which is calculated by an RD based on height, weight, age, activity level, stressors, and desired weight.

The American Diabetes Association’s (ADA) position on nutrition therapy for the management of diabetes states in part that the goals for carbohydrate intake should be developed individually for the patient and that the amount of carbohydrate and available insulin are important factors influencing post-meal glycemic response and should be considered when developing an eating plan. Further, carbohydrates (especially “good” sources such as starchy vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, and low-fat dairy) are encouraged by the ADA in the amounts necessary to achieve optimal glycemic control, as reflected by blood sugar records. Strict carb counting is not appropriate for all people with diabetes, but it’s application in any form can be a powerful tool in one’s diabetes management “arsenal.”

Diabetes is a disease I am all too familiar with being the mother of a child with type 1 diabetes, so I advise my clients with diabetes from a personal as well as a professional perspective. I know first-hand how difficult it can be to manage diabetes and I am inspired to help as many people with diabetes as I can. And since I witness how beneficial it can be to count carbs, I recommend it whenever appropriate for the client.

A person with diabetes who is diet-controlled or treated with oral meds may benefit most from estimating carb intake; whereas, a client who is on insulin requires more precise carb counting. Nonetheless, both of these groups will  benefit from the practice of identifying carbs, determining whether or not they are a good source, and gauging how much they should eat in accordance with their recommended “allowance.”

Once learned and applied, many of my clients are nothing short of shocked by how many carbs they consume as compared to how many carbs they actually need. For example, I had a client who did not want to give up his 20 oz. of Cherry Coke every day since he justified it as his version of coffee, stating “you have your coffee and I have my soda.” However when we discussed how he only needed  approximately 180-200 grams of total carbohydrate every day and Cherry Coke accounts for 70 grams of those carbs, all of which are sugar–17 1/2 teaspoons worth–he was mortified and began to look at his carb intake in a totally new light.

Another example was a morbidly obese woman with diabetes who sought my help to lose weight and improve her glycemic control. Her typical breakfast which she thought was exemplary provided in excess of 80 grams of total carbs, but her daily carb allowance was only estimated to be 150 grams per day.  While she was choosing healthy carbs, it wasn’t until we counted the carbs together that she realized she was taking in excess of her “needs” given the rest of her usual carb intake.

This type of realization often leads with any luck to mindful eating which can be defined as, “eating with intention and attention”–a dietitian’s dream!  I have been a dietitian long enough to know that the most successful individuals take ownership over their eating and aren’t simply “spoon fed” a meal plan they have trouble modifying or sticking to. Whatever the application, counting carbs can provide a much needed perspective on what we put in our bodies!