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Learning About Carbohydrate (Carb) Counting and Eating Out When You Have Diabetes

Why plan your meals?

Meal planning can be a key part of managing diabetes. Planning meals and snacks with the right balance of carbohydrate, protein, and fat can help you keep your blood sugar at the target level you set with your doctor.

You don't have to eat special foods. You can eat what your family eats, including small amounts of sweets once in a while.

You may want to work with a dietitian or a certified diabetes educator. They can give you tips and meal ideas and can answer your questions about meal planning. They can also help you reach a healthy weight if that is one of your goals.

What should you know about eating carbs?

  • It can be helpful to learn which foods have carbs and how many carbs are in them.
  • Canada's food guide can help you plan your meals. Put non-starchy vegetables and fruits on half the plate. Add a protein food on one-quarter of the plate, and put whole grain foods and starchy vegetables (like potato or corn) on the final quarter of the plate. Make water your drink of choice.
  • Here are some examples of carbohydrate servings:
    • Grains (whole grain foods) and starchy foods: These have about 15 grams of carbohydrates in a serving. Choose whole grain foods such as whole grain bread or crackers, oatmeal, and brown rice more often than refined grains. A serving is 1 slice bread (30 g or 1 oz), 1/4 large bagel, 155 ml (2/3 cup) crispy rice cereal, 175 ml (3/4 cup) oatmeal, 80 ml (1/3 cup) cooked rice, 125 ml (1/2 cup) cooked pasta, 125 ml (1/2 cup) cooked beans, lentils, or peas, 125 ml (1/2 cup) cooked corn, or 125 ml (1/2 cup) mashed potatoes.
    • Vegetables (non-starchy): Choose a variety of colours. A serving of low carbohydrate vegetables could be 250 ml (1 cup) raw leafy vegetables, or 250 ml (1 cup) other vegetables (cooked or chopped raw).
    • Fruits: These have about 15 grams of carbohydrates in a serving. Choose a variety of colours. A serving is 1 small apple or medium orange, 1/2 large banana, 125 ml (1/2 cup) chopped, cooked, or canned fruit,125 ml (1/2 cup) apple, grapefruit, orange, or cranberry juice, or 30 ml (2 tablespoons) raisins.
    • Protein foods (milk and alternatives): These have about 15 grams of carbohydrates in a serving. A serving is 250 ml (1 cup) of milk, 175 ml (3/4 cup) of no-sugar-added yogurt, or 250 ml (1 cup) fortified soy beverage.
    • Protein foods (meat and alternatives): These have very little or no carbohydrates in a serving. A serving is 75 grams of meat, poultry, or fish, 60 ml (1/4 cup) of cottage cheese, 1 egg, or 60 ml (2 tablespoons) of peanut butter.
  • A dietitian or certified diabetes educator can teach you how to keep track of the amount of carbs you eat and how to balance your carbs to help you manage your blood sugar.
  • Learn more about counting carbs in food as well as counting carbs in recipes.

How can you eat out and still eat healthy?

  • Learn to estimate the serving sizes of foods that have carbohydrate. If you measure food at home, it will be easier to estimate the amount in a serving of restaurant food.
  • If the meal you order has too much carbohydrate ask to have a low-carbohydrate food instead. Ask for a salad or green vegetables.
  • Checking your blood sugars before and after a meal can help you understand how different foods can impact your blood sugar.
  • If you eat more carbohydrate at a meal than you had planned, try taking a walk or do other exercise. This will help lower your blood sugar.

What are some tips for eating healthy?

  • Limit saturated fat, such as the fat from meat and dairy products. Choose lean cuts of meat and non-fat or low-fat dairy products. Use olive or canola oil instead of butter or shortening when cooking.
  • Don't skip meals. If you take insulin or certain medicines for diabetes, your blood sugar may drop too low if you skip meals.
  • Talk with your doctor before you drink alcohol. Alcohol can cause your blood sugar to drop too low. Alcohol can also cause a bad reaction if you take certain diabetes medicine.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse advice line (811 in most provinces and territories) if you are having problems. In Alberta, you can also call Health Link at 811 to talk to a dietitian about your nutrition questions.
It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

Where can you learn more?

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