This week’s question from

I was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes last month.  I’m having difficulty understanding how many carbs and sugar I can have each day.  I’m finding that nearly everything contains carbs and sugar!  Can you help me with this?

Certainly we can help you! There is an abundance of information out there on this very topic. Although trying to figure out carbohydrates can be overwhelming, understanding a few vital points will help you on your way.

First of all, it is important to understand what a carbohydrate actually is. Carbohydrates are our main form of energy in the diet, and are made up of starches, fiber, and as you’ve already mentioned, sugar. In the body, we break down these various types of carbohydrates into the form of  glucose, which our blood stream absorbs to provide the body with energy. As you may already know, type 2 diabetes is where the body does not sufficiently absorb glucose into the cells, resulting in high levels of circulating blood glucose. Because of the damage this can cause our bodies, people with type 2 diabetes must be especially careful to eat a limited about of carbohydrates daily. The foods that contain carbohydrates are mainly

-starches (grains, starchy vegetables, beans)

Non-starchy vegetables have negligible amounts of carbohydrates, protein (such as meats, eggs, nuts) and fat sources have none. These 2 groups are good to keep in moderation as well due to their fat content. Excess can put you at greater risk for heart disease.

So what is a ”limited” amount of carbohydrates? It is recommended that men can consume 4-5 carbohydrate servings per meal, while women can have 2-3 servings per meal. What is a serving? Just remember 15 grams. One serving of carbohydrate is 15 grams. 

So now that we know the serving  size is 15 grams, what exactly does that look like?? It is hard to visualize a specific measurement like that, much less when you are trying to prepare a meal. Examples of carbohydrate servings, also known as ”exchanges” include:

1 small piece of fresh fruit (4 oz)
1/2 cup of canned or frozen fruit
1 slice of bread (1 oz) or 1 (6 inch) tortilla
1/2 cup of oatmeal
1/3 cup of pasta or rice
4-6 crackers
1/2 English muffin or hamburger bun
1/2 cup of black beans or starchy vegetable
1/4 of a large baked potato (3 oz)
2/3 cup of plain fat-free yogurt or sweetened with sugar substitutes
2 small cookies
2 inch square brownie or cake without frosting
1/2 cup ice cream or sherbet
1 Tbsp syrup, jam, jelly, sugar or honey
2 Tbsp light syrup
6 chicken nuggets
1/2 cup of casserole
1 cup of soup
1/4 serving of a medium french fry

You can find information on just about any food item, using a diabetes exchange lists. One of my favorites sites to use is . You can print these out and put them on your fridge for easy reference.

 Counting carbohydrates is also easier when food nutrition labels are available. When reading labels, looking the number of total carbohydrates per serving will give you a good idea of how much you can have of that product. It will also give you an idea of the amount of fiber it has out of those total carbohydrates (the more the better), and how much sugar it may have.

Learning about carbohydrates can easily be too much information in one sitting, but practicing identifying carbohydrate serving sizes is a great way to start. You may notice that a lot of serving sizes are in specific measurements. It may be helpful to measure them out with cups, teaspoons, etc., then make a mental note of what that looks like so you don’t have the hassle of measuring portions on your plate every meal. Once you get the hang of it, it will become a habit and won’t take as much thought each time.

Not only is this way of eating good for you, but it is the way we should all be eating, diabetic or not. Once you have the hang of carbohydrate counting, think of your plate as a whole like this: