Counting carbs. Piece of cake (or pie), right? No? Fortunately, help is near. We've reached out to people with firsthand experience to dig up practical pointers. Know—and more accurately estimate—carbohydrate counts in foods you commonly eat and recipes you love with help from these tried-and-true tips.
Spot-check your portions. The better your eyes estimate portions, the more precise you'll be at counting carbs. Keep your eyes honest by double-checking your portions. "Once a month I'll put my oatmeal, cold cereal, pasta, rice and other starches I eat in my usual serving bowl or plate. But before I take a bite, I put it in a measuring cup to check up on my estimates," says Amanda D., 23, who was diagnosed with diabetes 6 years ago. Amanda finds that without periodic measuring, her portions grow.
Keep measuring tools handy. You may be likely to reach for your measuring cups and spoons and your food scale if you keep them on the counter. And better portion control could translate to better after-meal blood sugar results. (Remember: Check blood sugar before eating and again two hours after the first bite to see how measuring helps you fine-tune carb counts.) "I took this advice from a dietitian and noticed how much more I used my tools and how much more accurate my carb counts were," says Amanda D.
Read nutrition labels. “Your quickest, cheapest and most accurate carb count is from a Nutrition Facts label," says Toby Smithson, R.D., C.D.E. Focus on total carbohydrate grams and not on sugars, which are factored into total carbohydrate grams. The serving sizes on Nutrition Facts labels are called reference amounts—they're standardized and considered reasonable amounts to eat.
Pick produce by size. Fruits, potatoes and other produce come in a wide range of sizes. The difference between a small and large apple can easily be 15 grams of carbohydrates. Take a few minutes on occasion to weigh pieces of the produce you buy and write down the weight on a piece of paper or in your food journal. When at home, look up their carb counts based on the weight. Make an effort to choose similar sizes when you shop.
Build your food database. Put together a personal food database, which could be a journal or notebook or an online database, of your favorite things to eat and foods that make up your go-to meals. Here’s how:
• Make a list of foods you regularly eat. Think breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks. Look at what's in your refrigerator, freezer and pantry and on your shopping list.
• Think about portions. Record the amounts or portion sizes you usually eat and look up the carb counts of the foods in these portions.
• Combine the foods into meals and add up the total carb counts.
• Include new foods as you add them to your repertoire.
"My carb database contains just the foods I eat. No need to be bothered with thousands of foods I'll never eat," says Susan H., 50.
Rack up recipe counts. After building your food database, collect all of the recipes you love and figure out carb counts for them.
Be mindful of casseroles. With casseroles, the counting gets tricky. If it's a recipe you make regularly, take the time to add up the carbs precisely. If not, measure out your portion and use a simple conversion, from the chart below to estimate carbs.
1/4 cup = 7 g carbohydrate
1/3 cup = 10 g carbohydrate
1/2 cup = 15 g carbohydrate
1 cup = 30 g carbohydrate