One night my daughter asked me what I did at work. I tried to make it simple and told her that I help people learn to count carbs. She looked at me puzzled and said “Why do you need to teach people how to do that, all they have to do is look at a label?” I said “What if something doesn’t have a label?” Then she said, “Well, you just guess 15.” It baffled her why people have trouble with counting carbs. I guess when you have grown up since kindergarten counting carbs, it’s no big deal to you.
Carb counting really can be made simple. When you have a label, you just look at the serving size and the Total Carbohydrates. The total carbohydrates is listed in grams. That is how many grams of carbs you are eating if you eat the serving size listed. You may have to do the math to adjust the serving size. (That’s why kids with diabetes are usually great at math! They have to do fractions all the time counting carbs!)
There are some rules for advanced carb counting, like looking at fiber. For me, this usually doesn’t apply. In order to subtract out fiber, the rule is that if it is over 5 grams, you can subtract out half the fiber. Rarely are foods over 5 grams, and if it is over 5 grams, usually half of it isn’t worth subtracting out/it doesn’t make a huge difference.
There are also rules about sugar alcohols, same as fiber except only start subtracting out half if it’s 10 grams or more. I prefer to not use anything with sugar alcohols and just dose insulin for the total carbs of the real foods.
So what do you do if you do not have a label?
That’s where Sara’s “rule of 15” applies. I teach kids that 15 is the magic number. If you don’t know, generally 15 is a good guess. This applies to fruits/breads/starches/milks.
There are lists such as the Lilly books on carbs which list out what is equivalent to 15 grams, along with this great book by Hope Warshaw, RD, CDE that I highly recommend! ADA Complete Guide to Carbohydrate Counting
Here are some basic examples of portions for 15 grams of carbohydrates:
1 slice of bread
Small biscuit/dinner roll/cornbread
CD size waffle/pancake
6 in tortilla
1/3 cup cooked rice/pasta
1/2 cup beans/peas/potatoes/corn/starchy vegetable
Baseball piece of fruit: apple/pear/peach/small banana or 1/2 regular banana
1/2 cup juice
8 ounces milk
6 ounces lite yogurt
1/2 cup ice cream
These are just estimates, but a quick way to get close with “guess-estimating”. Of course, the labels are more accurate, and if you do carb factors, (more coming on carb factors in another post), that’s even closer. But for my family, just getting close enough has worked fine with their blood sugars and they are well controlled. So my goal is to lower stress related to diabetes, so getting close works for us.