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Basics of Carb Counting and Portion Sizes

Sugar, breads, pasta, rice, wheat, oats, fruit, milk, vegetables -they are all forms of carbohydrates. The key to managing blood glucose is to know how much carbohydrate is present in the meal or snack, and the proper portion size. 
Glycemic Index 
The glycemic index (GI) is a way to predict how fast blood sugar will rise after eating certain foods. Foods that are high in processed carbohydrates (such as juice instead of fruit) tend to have the greatest glycemic load, while certain factors such as fiber, particle size, cooking times, and fats lower the GI. Combining foods is a good way of lowering the rise of blood sugar (such as peanut butter on bread). THE HIGHER THE GLYCEMIC INDEX, THE HIGHER THE INSULIN RESPONSE AND THE GREATER THE HUNGER ~2 HOURS LATER (GENERALLY). 




Carbohydrate Counting 
Carb counting is one way of estimating the carbohydrate in foods. A portion of food with 15g of carbohydrate is one serving, or one carbohydrate exchange. 
The following foods are among the highest IN BOTH THE GLYCEMIC INDEX, AND IN CARBS: 
• Sweetened beverages (soda, sweet tea, sweetened juice drinks, regular JUICE, some protein drinks, etc) 
• Bread, rice, crackers, corn, other starchy cereal grains like corn flakes 
• dried fruits (regular fruits ok, especially those with darker skins like plums, apples, berries) 
• Milk and sweetened yogurt 
• Starchy vegetables, potatoes, peas, corn, winter squash 
• Sweets (cakes, cookies, candy, soda, sweetened beverages) 

How much food is 15g of carbohydrate like? 
Most of the time, the food label will tell you how many grams of carbohydrate is in one serving of a food. Included in the total carbohydrate content is fiber (which helps to decrease the rise in blood glucose) and sugars (added, as well as naturally occurring). The following is a list of foods, sorted by exchange group. The foods within each category are considered equivalent in carbohydrate: 

Starchy Foods 
The foods in this list contain 15g carbohydrate, 3g protein, very little fat and 80 calories. Whole grains also contain 2g or more of fiber. 
In general, 1 serving of starch equals ½ cup cereal, 1/3 cup rice, or pasta, 1 ounce bread, or 1 oz snack foods. 

Cereals/Grains Serving size 
Barley, cooked 
Oats, oatmeal, cooked 
Sugar-coated cereal 
Unsweetened, ready to eat cereal 
Couscous 
Granola, low fat 
Kasha (buckwheat) 
Pasta, cooked 
Quinoa, cooked 
Rice, white or brown, cooked 
Wheat germ, dry 
Tabbouli, prepared 
Polenta, cooked 1/3 cup 
½ cup 
½ cup 
¾ cup 
1/3 cup 
¼ cup 
½ cup 
1/3 cup 
1/3 cup 
1/3 cup 
3 Tablespoons 
½ cup 
1/3 cup 
Starchy Vegetables Serving Size 
Cassava 
Corn and corn on cob, large 
Mixed vegetables, containing corn peas, or pasta 
Parsnips 
Potato, baked with skin 
Potato, mashed with milk and fat 
Pumpkin, canned with no sugar 
Winter squash 
Succotash 
Sweet potato 1/3 cup 
½ cup, ½ cob 
1 cup 

½ cup 
1/3 large (3oz) 
½ cup 
1 cup 
1 cup 
½ cup 
½ cup 
Breads and Crackers Serving Size 
Bagel, 4 oz 
Biscuit, 2 ½” diameter 
Bread, white, whole grain, rye 
Chapatti, 6” diameter 
Cornbread, 1 ¾” piece 
English muffin 
Hot dog or hamburger bun 
Pancake, 4” diameter 
Tortilla, flour, 6” diameter 
Waffle, 4” square or circle 
Crackers, saltine 
Graham crackers, 2 ½” square 
Pretzels 
Rice cakes, 4” ¼ (1 oz) 

1 slice (1 oz) 

1 (1.5 oz) 
½ 
½ (1 oz) 





¾ oz 




Fruits 
The foods in this list contain 15g carbohydrates, approximately 60 calories, and 2 grams fiber per serving (for fresh, frozen, and dried fruits). Choose fruits without added sugars. 
In general, 1 fruit exchange equals ½ cup canned or fresh fruit and juice, 1 small fruit, or 2 tablespoons dried fruit. 

Fresh and canned fruits Serving Size 
Apple, small 
Banana, small 
Blueberries 
Cantaloupe 
Cherries 
Dates 
Fruit cocktail 
Grapes 
Kiwi 
Mango, small 
Orange, small 
Peaches, canned 
Pineapple, fresh 
Plums, fresh 
Strawberries 
Raspberries 
Watermelon 1 (4 oz) 
1 (4 oz) 
¾ cup 
1 cup cubed, 1/3 small melon 
12 (3 oz) 

½ cup 
17 (3 oz) 
1 (3 ½ oz) 
½ cup fruit 
1 (6 ½ oz) 
½ cup 
¾ cup 
2 small 
1 ¼ cup berries 
1 cup 
1 ¼ cup cubed 

Fruit Juices Serving Size 
Apple juice/cider 
100% juice blend 
Grape juice 
Grapefruit juice 
Orange juice 
Pineapple juice ½ cup 
1/3 cup 
1/3 cup 
½ cup 
½ cup 
½ cup 


Vegetables 
The foods in this list contain 5g carbohydrate, 2g protein, no fat, 2-3g fiber, and 25 calories. 
In general, one vegetable exchange equals ½ cup cooked vegetable or juice, or 1 cup raw vegetables. If you consume 3 or more cups of raw vegetables (1 ½ cup cooked) in a meal, they count as 1 carbohydrate choice. Aim to consume 2-3 nonstarchy vegetables daily. 
Artichoke hearts 
Asparagus 
Baby corn 
Bean sprouts 
Beans (green, wax, romano) 
Beets 
Broccoli 
Carrots 
Cabbage 
Cauliflower 
Cucumber 
Eggplant 
Green onions 
Jicama 
Leeks 
Kohrabi Mushrooms 
Okra 
Onions 
Snow peas 
Peppers 
Radishes 
Rutabaga 
Spinach 
Summer squash 
Sugar snap peas 
Swiss chard 
Kale 
Tomatoes 
Turnips 
Water chestnuts 
Long beans 


Milk List 
The foods in this list contain 12g carbohydrate, 8g protein, and variable amounts of fat and calories. 
In general, one milk exchange equals 1 cup milk or yogurt. 
Milk, fluid 
Fat free (skim) and low-fat (1%) 
Reduced-fat (2%) 
Whole 12g CHO, 8g protein, 0-3g fat, 100 calories 
12g CHO, 8g protein, 5g fat, 120 calories 
12g CHO, 8g protein, 8g fat, 160 calories 

Milk and yogurt Serving size 
Fat free buttermilk 
Evaporated milk 
Fat-free yogurt 1 cup 
½ cup 
2/3 cup 
Other dairy foods Serving size, plus additional carb count 
Chocolate milk, fat-free 
Eggnog, whole 
Rice milk, plain 
Smoothie, made with milk 
Soy milk, regular 
Yogurt, with fruit, low-fat 1 cup, 1 fat-free milk + 1 carbohydrate 
½ cup, 1 carbohydrate + 2 fat 
1 cup, + 1 carbohydrate 
10 oz, 1 fat-free milk + 2 ½ carbohydrate 
1 cup, 1 carbohydrate + 1 fat 
2/3 cup, 1 fat-free milk + 1 carbohydrate 



Meat and Meat Substitutes 
The foods in this list contain 7g protein and variable amounts of fat and calories. Meat substitutes are usually a combination of foods with carbohydrate, protein, fat and calories. 
In general, 1 meat exchange equals 1 ounce meat, fish poultry, cheese, or ½ cup dried beans. 
• 1 lean meat choice contains 7g protein, 0-3 fat, and 45 calories. 
• 1 medium-fat choice contains 7g protein, 4-7g fat, and 75 calories. 
• 1 high-fat meat contains 7g protein, 8+g fat, and 100 calories. 
Very Lean meat/Meat substitutes Serving size 
Lean beef(choice), fat trimmed: ground round, roast, sirloin, steak, tenderloin 
Low-fat cheese (<3g fat per oz) 
Cottage cheese 
Egg white 
Fish: catfish, cod, haddock, halibut, salmon, trout, tuna 
Hot dog (<3g fat) 
Lean pork 
Lamb-chop or leg 
Poultry, without skin: chicken, duck, turkey 
Sandwich meats (<3g fat per oz): beef, deli meats, turkey, ham, kielbasa 
Canned salmon or tuna, drained 
Sardines 
Veal, chop or loin 1 oz 

1 oz 
¼ cup 

1 oz 


1 oz 
1 oz 
1 oz 


1 oz 
2 small 
1 oz 
Medium fat meats 
Beef, corned beef, meatloaf, prime grade ribs, short ribs 
Cheese (4-7g fat per ounce) 
Egg 
Fish, fried 
Lamb-ground, rib roast 
Pork-cutlet, shoulder roast 
Poultry with skin 
Ricotta cheese 
Sausage (4-7g fat per oz) 1 oz 

1 oz 

1 oz 
1 oz 
1 oz 
1 oz 
2 oz (1/4 cup) 
1 oz 
High fat meats 
Bacon, pork 
Cheese, regular 
Hot dog, regular 
Pork-ground, sausage, ribs 
High-fat processed meats (>8g fat per oz): bologna, salami 
Sausage (>8g fat per oz): chorizo, polish, smoked 2 slice (16 slices/lb) 
1 oz 

1 oz 
1 oz 

1 oz 
Plant-based Proteins Counted as 
Soy Bacon strips 
Baked beans 
Veggie soy crumbles 
Soy “chicken” nuggets 
Edamame 
Falafel 
Soy hot dog 
Hummus 
Lentils 
Soy burger 
Nut butters(almond, cashew, peanut) 
Peas, cooked (black eyed, split peas) 
Tempeh 
Tofu, regular firm 3 strips, 1 medium-fat meat 
1/3 cup, 1 starch + 1 lean meat 
2 oz, ½ carbohydrate + 1 lean meat 
2 nuggets, ½ carbohydrate + 1 m. fat meat 
½ cup, ½ carbohydrate + 1 lean meat 
3- 2” patties, 1 carbohydrate + 1 high fat meat 
1 each, ½ carbohydrate + 1 lean meat 
1/3 cup, 1 carbohydrate + 1 high-fat meat 
½ cup, 1 carbohydrate + 1 lean meat 
3 oz, ½ carbohydrate + 2 lean meats 
1 Tb, 1 high-fat meat (good fat) 
½ cup, 1 starch + 1 lean meat 
¾ cup, 1 medium-fat meat (good fat) 
½ cup, 1 medium-fat meat (good fat) 


Fats 
The foods in this group contain 5g fat and 45 calories. Most fats consumed should be unsaturated. Use sparingly: 1 tsp fat=1 fat exchange. 
Fats are high in calories, so limit portions of high-fat foods. Consume more omega-3 fats, and monounsaturated fats. Take great care with saturated fat, and do not consume any trans-fat. 
Unsaturated Fats (Monounsaturated) Serving Size 
Avocado 
Nut butters(almond, peanut, cashew) 
Nuts 
Almonds 
Brazil nuts 
Cashews 
Hazelnuts 
Peanuts 
Pecans 
Nuts-walnuts (has omega-3) 
Oil (canola, olive, vegetable) 
Olives, black 
2 Tb 
1 Tb 

6 nuts 
2 nuts 
6 nuts 
5 nuts 
10 nuts 
4 halves 
4 halves 
1 tsp 
8 large 
Unsaturated fats (Polyunsaturated) 
Margarine, trans-fat free, tub 
Mayonnaise, reduced-fat 
Mayonnaise, regular 
Salad dressing-reduced fat 
Salad dressing-regular 
Flaxseed, whole (has omega-3) 
Sunflower, pumpkin seeds 
Tahini (sesame butter) 1 Tb 
1 Tb 
1 tsp 
2 Tb 
1 Tb 
1 Tb, should be GROUND! 
1 Tb 
2 tsp 
Saturated Fats 
Butter, stick 
Coconut, sweetened 
Coconut milk, light 
Cream-half and half 
Cream-whipped 
Cream cheese-reduced fat 
Shortening, lard (avoid) 
Sour cream, regular 1 tsp 
2 Tb 
1/3 cup 
2 Tb 
2 Tb 
1 ½ Tb 
1 tsp 
2 Tb 

Free Foods 
Free foods have fewer than 5g carbohydrates and 20 calories in the correct portion size. Take care, as they may be high in sodium: 
Condiments Serving Size 
Barbeque Sauce 
Ketchup 
Honey Mustard 
Lemon juice 
Mustard 
Parmesan cheese, grated 
Pickles, dill 
Salsa 
Soy sauce 
Plum sauce 
Taco sauce 
Vinegar 2 tsp 
1 Tb 
1 Tb 


1 Tb 
1 ½ medium 
¼ cup 
1 Tb 
2 tsp 
1 Tb 


Drinks-these drinks can be consumed in any reasonable amount. 
• Bouillon, broth 
• Carbonated water 
• Unsweetened cocoa powder (1 Tb) 
• Coffee, black 
• Diet drinks 
• Unsweetened tea 
• Water, plain or flavored 

Seasonings-these seasonings can be used in any reasonable amount. 
• Flavor extracts(vanilla, orange, mint) 
• Garlic 
• Fresh and dried herbs 
• Cooking spray 
• Spices 
• Hot sauce 
• Cooking wine 
Talk with your registered dietitian (RD) about planning meals and snacks right for you. Everyone has a different requirement from each food group, and the ultimate goal is to achieve a plan that is balanced between foods, medication, and exercise. 
Resources:  
Mahan LK, Escott-Stump, S. Krause’s Food & Nutrition Therapy, 12th ed. 
http://www.diabetes.org/food-and-fitness/food/planning-meals/carb-counting/ 
Choose Your Foods: Exchange Lists for Diabetes. The American Dietetic Association, 2008. 
http://www.bcchildrens.ca/Services/SpecializedPediatrics/EndocrinologyDiabetesUnit/default.htm