General Practice 2022

How to count carbohydrates (with lists of porções)

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How to count carbohydrates (with lists of porções)
How to count carbohydrates (with lists of porções)

Carbohydrate counting is a way of planning meals to know how much insulin should be administered before or after meals, helping to maintain adequate blood sugar levels in people with diabetes 1, thus avoiding, possible complications such as hypoglycemia, kidney damage and heart problems.

In addition, it is also important to check the nutritional information on product labels to verify the amount of carbohydrates per serving of food. However, the type of insulin recommended by the endocrinologist should always be taken into account, which may vary according to the practice of physical activity and the general state of he alth of the person.Learn about the different types of insulin.

Carbohydrate counting is also useful for people with type 2 diabetes and pre-diabetes, thus helping to improve the control of blood glucose levels, helping to avoid the need for medication and insulin. See other diet tips for managing type 2 diabetes.

How to count carbs

To count carbohydrates, the following aspects must be taken into account:

1. Foods that contain carbohydrates

Carbohydrates are the main source of energy used by the body and are primarily metabolized as glucose in the bloodstream, requiring the release of insulin to balance normal blood glucose levels. Foods that contain carbohydrates are:

  • Cereals,such as rice, wheat, oats, corn, bread, pasta, crackers, and cornstarch;
  • Pulses,such as beans, chickpeas, lentils, peas and broad beans;
  • Tubercles, such as potatoes, cassava, yams and sweet potatoes;
  • Vegetables,such as carrots, beets, eggplant, tomatoes, broccoli, cauliflower, green beans, kale, Brussels sprouts, lettuce, spinach and mushrooms,;
  • Some dairy products such as milk and yogurt;
  • FreshFruits, canned and fruit juices;
  • Vegetable drinks such as soy, oat and almond;
  • Foods high in sugar such as candy, sugar, honey, cakes, marmalade, ice cream, soft drinks, candies, cookies and chocolate.

It is essential to distribute carbohydrate foods throughout the day between meals to control blood glucose levels.

However, carbohydrates should be distributed according to the type of insulin prescribed by the physician.When rapid insulin is administered, people are not required to adhere to a rigid schedule, number of meals, and types of foods, so insulin is administered according to carbohydrate counting.

2. Amount of carbohydrates in foods

To facilitate carbohydrate counting, the food exchange system is generally used, where 1 serving of each food contains 15 g of carbohydrates, except non-starchy vegetables which contain 3 to 5 g of carbohydrates. With that in mind, foods should be grouped into portions like this:

Portion of food for every 15g of carbohydrates

1 serving of cereal:

1 slice of white or wholemeal bread

4 water or wholemeal cookies

3 tablespoons of cooked corn

2 tablespoons rolled oats

3 tablespoons cooked white or brown rice

1 serving of fruit:

1 medium silver banana

1 medium lime orange

120 ml of orange juice

1 medium tangerine unit

15 medium strawberries

1 small apple

2 large slices of melon

2 medium fig units

15 grapes

½ papaya medium papaya

1 serving of legumes:

7 tablespoons cooked black-eyed peas

7 tablespoons cooked black beans

5 tablespoons of cooked lentils

4 tablespoons of chickpeas

1 serving of milk or yogurt:

1 cup (200g) full-fat or plain yogurt

1 cup (240ml) of skimmed or whole milk

1 serving of vegetable drink:

1 cup (240 ml) of rice, oat, soy or almond vegetable drink

1 serving of tubers:

2 heaping tablespoons of mashed potato

1 and ½ tablespoon chopped boiled sweet potato

2 tablespoons of chopped cooked yam

2 tablespoons of chopped cooked yam

1 serving of high-sugar foods:

1 tablespoon brown sugar

1 tablespoon of fruit jelly

2 tablespoons of diet apricot jam

1 tablespoon coconut pumpkin jam

1/2 cup low-fat ice cream

It is also important to read the product label to choose the most suitable foods and control the amount of carbohydrates consumed. Nutritional information on food labels tells you the total carbohydrates in each serving. According to this, one must calculate the amount of this food that contains 15 grams of carbohydrates.

Also, having a small scale can also be very useful to help you calculate food portions more easily.

3. Foods that don't need to be counted

Vegetables such as lettuce, zucchini, tomato, green beans, eggplant, onion and broccoli are low in carbohydrates and high in fiber, have a very low glycemic index and therefore do not need to be counted when consumed up to 1 cup of the raw vegetable or ½ cup of the cooked vegetable.

Other foods that do not need to be counted are: unsweetened drinks such as water, teas, coffee; sweeteners; protein-rich foods, including all types of meat and eggs; high-fat foods such as nuts, vegetable oils, cheeses; and condiments.

4. Amount of carbohydrates to eat

The carbohydrate requirements for an adult are usually between 45% to 65% of total dietary calories. The amounts of carbohydrate servings vary according to weight, sex, he alth status and physical activity.

General recommendations for carbohydrate consumption are:

  • Between 50 and 70 g of carbohydrates for breakfast, lunch and dinner;
  • Between 20 and 30 grams of carbohydrates in small snacks.

It is recommended to consume at least 130 grams of carbohydrates per day to avoid hypoglycemia, which is a condition caused by low carbohydrate intake or excessive use of medications such as insulin, which can cause symptoms such as headache, weakness and dizziness.Know other symptoms of hypoglycemia.

Example for counting carbohydrates

The following table contains example carb counting for breakfast:

Food portion

Amount of carbohydrates

1 glass of milk 15 g
2 slices of whole wheat bread 30 g
1 small apple 15 g

Total carbohydrates

60 g

In this way, it is possible to calculate the amount of carbohydrates in the meal to know the amount of insulin that should be administered and thus control blood sugar levels.

How to calculate the amount of insulin

Carbohydrate counting is generally used by people with diabetes who use insulin, which can be slow-acting and long-acting, or fast-acting, for example, depending on the doctor's recommendation. Learn more about insulin types.

It is generally recommended to administer 1 unit of insulin for every 15 g of carbohydrate consumed. However, the doctor may also prescribe 1 unit of insulin for every 10 g of carbohydrate in the meal.

To know the total amount of insulin that should be applied, follow these steps:

  1. Monitor blood glucose before each meal;
  2. Calculate rapid insulin units according to carbohydrate intake;
  3. Adjust the insulin dose already calculated, according to the blood glucose value prior to ingestion.

The following table shows how to adjust rapid insulin according to the pre-meal blood glucose calculated:

Glycemia before meal

Rapid insulin adjustment

< 50 mg/dl Decrease by 2 to 3 units of insulin from the calculated intake
50 to 70 mg/dl Decrease 1 unit of insulin from the calculated for the meal
70 to 130 mg/dl According to insulin units calculated by intake
130 to 150 mg/dl According to intake + 1 unit of insulin
150 to 200 mg/dl According to intake + 2 units of insulin

Example to calculate the amount of insulin

Following the previous example, if a person is going to eat 60 g of carbohydrates for breakfast, glucose is also measured before lunch and shows 140 mg/dl. Therefore, taking into account that for every 15 g of carbohydrates, 1 unit of insulin must be administered, the following calculation must be made:

1. Divide 60 g of carbohydrates by 15 g, resulting in 4 units of insulin according to your intake;

2. If the person is at 140 mg/dl, add 1 Unit of Insulin, resulting in a total of 5 Units of Insulin.

Therefore, this person must apply a total of 5 Units of insulin to be able to eat the indicated menu and maintain stable glucose levels.

Benefits of carb counting

The benefits of performing carbohydrate content are as follows:

  • More freedom in the choice of meals;
  • Better control of blood glucose levels;
  • Flexibility in social life;
  • Easy weight control.

Furthermore, carbohydrate counting also reduces the chances of complications such as hypoglycemia, kidney damage, eye problems and cardiovascular disease. Learn more about diabetes complications.

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