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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 sweets once in a while. But you do have to pay attention to how often you eat and how much you eat of certain foods.

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

What should you know about eating carbs?

Managing the amount of carbohydrate (carbs) you eat is an important part of healthy meals when you have diabetes. Carbohydrate is found in many foods.

  • Learn which foods have carbs. And learn the amounts of carbs in different foods.
  • Use Canada's Food Guide ( to plan your meals. Put vegetables and fruits on half the plate. Add a protein food on one-quarter of the plate, and put a whole grain food 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 (30g, or 1oz), 1/4 large bagel, 155ml (2/3 cup) crispy rice cereal, 175ml (3/4 cup) cooked oatmeal, 80ml (1/3 cup) cooked rice, 125ml (1/2 cup) cooked pasta, 125ml cooked beans, lentils, or peas, 125ml cooked corn, or 125ml mashed potatoes.
    • Vegetables: Non-starchy vegetables that are low in carbohydrates. Choose a variety of colours. Low carbohydrate vegetables include; 250ml (1 cup) raw leafy vegetables, or 250ml 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, 125ml (1/2 cup) chopped, cooked, or canned fruit, 125ml apple, grapefruit, orange, or cranberry juice, or 30ml (2 tablespoons) raisins.
    • Protein foods (milk and alternatives): These have about 15 grams of carbohydrates in a serving. A serving is 250ml (1 cup) of milk, 175ml (3/4 cup) of no-sugar-added yogurt, or 250ml of plain, 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 2 tablespoons of peanut butter.
  • Learn how much carbs to eat each day and at each meal. A dietitian or CDE can teach you how to keep track of the amount of carbs you eat. This is called carbohydrate counting.
  • Try to eat about the same amount of carbs at each meal. Do not "save up" your daily allowance of carbs to eat at one meal.

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 (such as potatoes, corn, or baked beans), ask to have a low-carbohydrate food instead. Ask for a salad or green vegetables.
  • If you use insulin, check your blood sugar before and after eating out to help you plan how much to eat in the future.
  • If you eat more carbohydrate at a meal than you had planned, take 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. This is a healthy choice because people who have diabetes are at higher risk of heart disease. So 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. Your blood sugar may drop too low if you skip meals and take insulin or certain medicines for diabetes.
  • Check 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 pills.

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 call line if you are having problems. 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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