Basic Carbohydrate Counting

Basic carbohydrate counting is a way to plan meals. It is done by counting the amount of carbohydrate in foods. Foods that have carbohydrates are starches (grains, beans, starchy vegetables) and sweets. Eating carbohydrates increases blood glucose (sugar) levels. People with diabetes use carbohydrate counting to help keep their blood glucose at a normal level.


The first step in counting carbohydrates is to learn how many carbohydrate servings you should have in every meal. A dietitian can plan this for you. After learning the amount of carbohydrates to include in your meal plan, you can start to choose the carbohydrate-containing foods you want to eat.

There are 2 ways to identify the amount of carbohydrates in the foods you eat.

  • Read the Nutrition Facts panel on food labels. You need 2 pieces of information from the Nutrition Facts panel to count carbohydrates this way:

  • Serving size.

  • Total carbohydrate (in grams).

Decide how many servings you will be eating. If it is 1 serving, you will be eating the amount of carbohydrate listed on the panel. If you will be eating 2 servings, you will be eating double the amount of carbohydrate listed on the panel.

  • Learn serving sizes. A serving size of most carbohydrate-containing foods is about 15 grams (g). Listed below are single serving sizes of common carbohydrate-containing foods:

  • 1 slice bread.

  • ¾ cup unsweetened, dry cereal.

  • ½ cup hot cereal.

  • ⅓ cup rice.

  • ½ cup mashed potatoes.

  • ⅓ cup pasta.

  • 1 cup fresh fruit.

  • ½ cup canned fruit.

  • 1 cup milk (whole, 2%, or skim).

  • ½ cup starchy vegetables (peas, corn, or potatoes).

Counting carbohydrates this way is similar to looking on the Nutrition Facts panel. Decide how many servings you will eat first. Multiply the number of servings you eat by 15 g. For example, if you have 2 cups of strawberries, you had 2 servings. That means you had 30 g of carbohydrate (2 servings x 15 g = 30 g).


Sample dinner

  • 3 oz chicken breast.

  • ⅔ cup brown rice.

  • ½ cup corn.

  • 1 cup fat-free milk.

  • 1 cup strawberries with sugar-free whipped topping.

Carbohydrate calculation

First, identify the foods that contain carbohydrate:

  • Rice.

  • Corn.

  • Milk.

  • Strawberries.

Calculate the number of servings eaten:

  • 2 servings rice.

  • 1 serving corn.

  • 1 serving milk.

  • 1 serving strawberries.

Multiply the number of servings by 15 g:

  • 2 servings rice x 15 g = 30 g.

  • 1 serving corn x 15 g = 15 g.

  • 1 serving milk x 15 g = 15 g.

  • 1 serving strawberries x 15 g = 15 g.

Add the amounts to find the total carbohydrates eaten:

30 g + 15 g + 15 g + 15 g = 75 g carbohydrate eaten at dinner.