Why is Carb Counting Important for Type 1 Diabetes

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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.

Carb Counting

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. Why is Carb Counting Important for Type 1 Diabetes

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.

Nutrition Labels

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


Why is Carb Counting Important for Type 1 Diabetes

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.

Eating Out

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.



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12 thoughts on “Why is Carb Counting Important for Type 1 Diabetes”

  1. hello and I hope your day is going well your post is very informal I have type 2 diabetes and these kinds of pages are great access to me it is a great post down to the words and he cleans the context I wouldn’t change a thing thank you for sharing

    • Thank you Michael. Anyone with Diabetes of any form has had to make necessary adjustments in their daily life. Proper diet and nutrition are essential and time consuming. I am glad I was able to help you on your journey. I will continue to share our journey as we continue watching our grandson grow and learn to help manage his Type 1 Diabetes.

  2. You have done an awesome job sharing about how important counting carbs are for type 1 diabetes, I can see how it could be overwhelming at first to get the hang of counting the carbs for everything you eat.

    I had to go on a gluten-free diet due to health problems, and it was like a whole different world for me at first.

    • Thank you Jeff. You are so right any major change in our diets is overwhelming at first. While still in our first year of this journey the carb counting has become easier as we now know the usual count for most foods consumed regularly. For Alex we do follow some gluten free recipes to lower the carb count. If we have a high carb dinner I will tend to do a gluten free, sugar free dessert. Seems to work well for us. I hope your health is improved after going Gluten Free. Thanks again for the comment.

  3. Excellent post Deborah…have you tried downloading apps like MyFitnessPal or CarbManager…I’ve been eating Keto for nearly 2 years and I use MFP app to log food all the time…they have a huge database of food, barcode scanner etc. This tool can help you manage carb intake

  4. Rick, you did a really great job here. My mom had Diabetes and struggled with it most of her life. Because of that, I am on the cusp of it myself. I haven’t been diagnosed yet but they keep telling me I’m borderline.
    You have given me and anyone else who reads this so much great information. It really is a total lifestyle change and anyone who reads this, that isn’t diabetic, may be able to make these changes earlier and help prevent it. Great Job!

    • Thanks Don for the inspiring words of encouragement. I am passionate about helping others in their journey. My mother also had Type 2 and of course our grandson is Type 1. Making the necessary lifestyle changes is key whether Diabetic, Pre-diabetic or not. We have discovered that everyone in our family is healthier. I sincerely hope that through lifestyle changes you are able to avoid that dreaded diagnosis. Thanks again for the comment.

  5. I never thought about carb counting to help deal with type 1 diabetes. My brother has this and I am for sure going to send him this link! Thank you!!

    • Thank you Randi for your comment. I am glad I was able to offer some help. Check some of the previous comments on this post. Bob mentioned some apps to help with carb counting. I just started using MyFitnessPal today so can’t really comment on it’s effectiveness yet but it seems pretty good so far. Check it out. I hope carb counting can help your brother, I know we find it necessary with our grandson as his insulin dosage is dependent upon the amount of carbs eaten. Good luck in your Type 1 journey.

  6. Thank you so much for this relevant information. I have gone through some health issues over the last year and have been warned I am heading into a diabetes problem and advised to change my diet. I have to admit I find reading all the labels overwhelming and I’m not disciplined enough to do that. Bob above mentioned the MyFitnessPal App, my sport competing friend introduced me to this app and the “What the fat” book and that really helps. It was quite a surprise when I started just how many foods you wouldn’t imagine that contained carbs, I do prefer to prepare food at home so I know exactly whats going into my food. Thanks again

    • Thank you Nadine for your comment. Yes carb counting is time consuming and requires discipline. I only just started using the MyFitnessPal App that Bob recommended and so far have found it to be a time saver on finding the carb count on some foods. We no longer have our grandson everyday so it may take a while to become proficient with the app but so far so good. It is great that you are aware of what you are eating, certainly a big step in the right direction. Check out my product review on “The Ultimate Diabetic Cookbook”. I have found the recipes are tasty enough for the whole family to enjoy. Do you have any favourite Diabetic recipes you’d like to share? I sincerely hope you are able to avoid the Diabetes diagnosis. Good luck in your journey.


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