With our grandson’s new diagnosis of Type 1 Diabetes, we needed to fully understand Why is carb counting important for Type 1 Diabetes.
It is common knowledge that we all need carbohydrates in our diet. They are the main source of our energy for doing the things we want to do.
However, to a Type 1 Diabetic eating carbs can have a profound effect on their system. When eaten, carbohydrates raise the blood glucose levels significantly due to the pancreas not producing insulin. Insulin is used to enable the cells to use the glucose in the food eaten. It is for this reason that diabetics need to count carbs.
Carbohydrate counting involves keeping track of the amount of carbohydrate in the foods you eat each day. They are one of the main nutrients found in food and drinks.
Carbohydrates include sugars, starches, and fiber. Carb counting can help you control your blood glucose, also called blood sugar, levels because they affect your blood glucose more than other nutrients.
Healthy carbohydrates, such as whole grains, fruits, and vegetables, are an important part of a healthy eating plan because they can provide both energy and nutrients, such as vitamins and minerals, and fiber. Fiber can help you prevent constipation, lower your cholesterol levels, and control your weight.
In the case of our grandson, the dosage of insulin we give him is determined by how many carbs he eats. Before we feed him, we calculate the carbs on his plate of food. This gives us the maximum dose he will have if he eats all his food. Then we let him eat until he is full or finished. If he did not eat all his food we then have to calculate how much he actually ate and adjust our estimate of his dosage from that.
A kitchen scale and measuring cups and spoons become your most used tools for this. We measure/weigh everything on his plate, then measure/weigh his leftovers to determine his insulin dosage which is given after each meal.
Sounds tricky and at first, it is quite daunting. Over time you will just know what the carb count for most foods is and it won’t be such a challenge to figure out.
What Foods Contain Carbs
There are plenty of foods that contain carbohydrates in varying amounts.
- grains such as bread, noodles, pasta, crackers, cereals, and rice
- fruits such as apples, bananas, berries, mangoes, melons, and oranges
- dairy products such as milk and yogurt
- legumes including dried beans, lentils, and peas
- snack foods and sweets such as cakes, cookies, candy, and other desserts
- juices, soft drinks, fruit drinks, sports drinks, and energy drinks that contain sugars
- vegetables, especially “starchy” vegetables such as potatoes, corn, and peas
Potatoes, peas, and corn are called starchy vegetables because they are high in starch. These vegetables have more carbohydrates per serving than non-starchy vegetables.
Examples of non-starchy vegetables are asparagus, broccoli, carrots, celery, green beans, lettuce and other salad greens, peppers, spinach, tomatoes, and zucchini.
Foods that do not contain carbohydrates include meat, fish, and poultry; most types of cheese; nuts; and oils and other fats.
What Happens When Carbs Are Eaten
When you eat foods containing carbohydrates, your body breaks down the sugars and starches into glucose. Glucose is one of the simplest forms of sugar. Glucose then enters your bloodstream and raises your blood glucose levels. The hormone insulin, which comes from the pancreas or insulin shots, helps cells throughout your body absorb glucose and use it for energy. Once glucose moves out of the blood into cells, your blood glucose levels go back down.
How to Determine How Much Carbs Are In Food
You will need to learn to estimate the amount of carbohydrate in foods you typically eat. For example, the following amounts of carbohydrate-rich foods each contain about 15 grams of carbohydrate:
- one slice of bread
- one 6-inch tortilla
- 1/3 cup of pasta
- 1/3 cup of rice
- 1/2 cup of canned or fresh fruit or fruit juice or one small piece of fresh fruit, such as a small apple or orange
- 1/2 cup of pinto beans
- 1/2 cup of starchy vegetables such as mashed potatoes, cooked corn, peas, or Lima beans
- 3/4 cup of dry cereal or 1/2 cup cooked cereal
- 1 tablespoon of jelly
Some foods are so low in carbohydrates that you may not have to count them unless you eat large amounts. For example, most non-starchy vegetables are low in carbohydrates. A 1/2-cup serving of cooked non-starchy vegetables or a cup of raw vegetables has only about 5 grams of carbohydrates.
As time passes and you become familiar with which foods contain carbohydrates and how many grams of carbohydrates are in the food you eat, carbohydrate counting will be easier.
Before long it will be just a normal part of your day.
You can find out how many grams of carbohydrates are in the foods you eat by checking the nutrition labels on food packages.
Nutrition labels tell you
- the food’s serving size––such as one slice or 1/2 cup
- the total grams of carbohydrate per serving
- other nutrition information, including calories and the amount of protein and fat per serving
If you have two servings instead of one, such as one cup of pinto beans instead of 1/2 cup, you multiply the number of grams of carbohydrate in one serving—for example, 15—by two to get the total number of grams of carbohydrate—30.
15 x 2 = 30
Cooking At Home
To find out the amount of carbohydrate in homemade foods, you’ll need to estimate and add up the grams of carbohydrates from the ingredients. You can use books or websites that list the typical carbohydrate content of homemade items to estimate the amount of carbohydrate in each serving.
You can also weigh foods with a scale or measure amounts with measuring cups or spoons to estimate the amount of carbohydrate. For example, if a nutrition label shows that 1 1/2 cups of cereal contain 45 grams of carbohydrates, then 1/2 cup will have 15 grams of carbohydrates and 1 cup will have 30 grams of carbohydrates.
It won’t take long before you become really proficient at this. We find cooking at home is easier and our diet seems to rotate around the same favorite meals so calculate it once then the only adjustments are dependant upon whether or not Alex eats a full serving or not.
Some restaurants provide nutritional information that lists grams of carbohydrates. You can also use carbohydrate counting food lists to estimate the number of carbohydrates in restaurant meals.
We don’t eat out often because it is just easier to count carbs at home and administering the insulin is not always easy in a public restaurant. Don’t really want to take him to the bathroom or out to the car to administer a shot. Our daughter and son in law are much more comfortable with that and have even taken him to Canada Day festivities and allowed him to eat lunch and have his shot in a public park. They were able to be quite discreet about it out of consideration for those around who may not be comfortable seeing a child injected in the belly.
When it comes right down to it yes grand-parents can become proficient at carb counting for their Type 1 Diabetic grandchild. It is worth the effort so you can enjoy many fun visits relatively the same as before. I sincerely hope that other grand-parents of Type 1 kids can gain the knowledge and confidence to be able to safely count carbs and care for their Type 1 grandchild.
Thanks for stopping by, please leave your comments or questions below. I will respond.