Carb Counting Series: The Complexities Of Carb Counting
Living with type 1 diabetes can be complicated. Fortunately, we have an abundance of tools and resources that can help us along. One aspect of living with type 1 diabetes that some may find particularly confusing is carbohydrate counting. While yes, carb counting can be complex, practice does make perfect! Here we explore some of the complexities of carb counting for your consideration.
What Is Carb Counting?
Let’s get this question out of the way first. Carbohydrate counting refers to calculating (or estimating) the amount of carbs in your food or drink. You can then use this information to determine how much insulin you need to keep your blood glucose (BG) levels stable after enjoying that meal. Carb counting has been shown to support improved BG management. Additionally, using this tool can allow you more flexibility in your food choices,1 so it’s definitely worthwhile learning!
Considerations To Help You Navigate The Complexities Of Carb Counting
As always, if something isn’t making sense to you about your diabetes management, talk to your diabetes healthcare team. They know you and your situation the best. This means they can offer individualised advice for your circumstances and your diabetes.
Here are 4 factors to consider when learning to count carbs.
1. Carb counting can be done in different ways.
Depending on where you live, your diabetes healthcare team may exclusively teach you one method of carb counting. However, there are actually two methods – counting in grams or in portions/equivalents/exchanges.1 Both are useful, and neither is better than the other.
2. Food labels often need a bit of extra scrutiny.
Many food and drink products will state the carb content per serving or per 100g. When using this nutritional information to count carbs, be sure you’re looking at the right values. In addition to this, one “serving” as stated on the packaging may not necessarily be how much you end up eating. It’s important to be aware of how this affects you true carb intake.
3. Uncooked foods often have a different weight compared to when they’re cooked.
If you’re counting carbs based off your portion size, be mindful of whether you’re considering the cooked or raw version. For example, 100g of uncooked rice doesn’t end up being 100g of cooked rice. If you’ve calculated your carb intake from 100g of cooked rice, and then gone and cooked 100g of raw rice grains, you’re going to end up ingesting more carbs than you expect.
4. Different types of carbs can affect your BG differently, even if you’ve counted them accurately.
Though this may not always directly affect how you count your carbs, it will affect your post-meal BG. The glycaemic index (GI) ranks carbs as fast-, medium-, or slow-acting. The slower the carb (the lower the GI), the slower it is to be digested by the body and absorbed into the bloodstream. This results in a softer impact on your BG compared to a fast-acting carb.2 Some people may find that slow-acting carbs don’t need to be counted or matched with insulin unless you consume a lot of them.3
If counting carbs is still a mystery to you, speak to your diabetes healthcare team about what training courses you might investigate. There are also apps and online calculators that can take a lot of the guesswork (and maths) out of carb counting. Once you’ve pinned down the complexities of carb counting, that’s more time to enjoy the finer things in life!
- Diabetes UK. Learn About Carb Counting. https://www.diabetes.org.uk/. 2021. Available at: https://www.diabetes.org.uk/guide-to-diabetes/enjoy-food/carbohydrates-and-diabetes/nuts-and-bolts-of-carb-counting/learn-about-carb-counting. (Accessed October 2022).
- Diabetes UK. Glycaemic Index and Diabetes. https://www.diabetes.org.uk/s. 2021. Available at: https://www.diabetes.org.uk/guide-to-diabetes/enjoy-food/carbohydrates-and-diabetes/glycaemic-index-and-diabetes. (Accessed October 2022).
- Diabetes UK. How Carbs Interact With Your Body. https://www.diabetes.org.uk/. 2020. Available at: https://www.diabetes.org.uk/guide-to-diabetes/enjoy-food/carbohydrates-and-diabetes/nuts-and-bolts-of-carb-counting/learn-about-carb-counting/how-carbs-interact-with-your-body. (Accessed October 2022).