How to Determine How Many Carbs & Sugars to Eat If Diabetic

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Whether you've recently been diagnosed with Type 1, Type 2 or gestational diabetes or are having difficulty controlling your blood sugar, determining how many carbohydrates to eat per day can be overwhelming. When you are diabetic, your pancreas is either not producing enough or any insulin or your cells are insulin resistant. Insulin is the hormone responsible for helping glucose get out of blood and into cells for energy. Your doctor has likely prescribed oral medication or insulin in order to help control your blood sugar. Diet plays an equally important role in blood sugar management so understanding carbohydrates is essential.

Things You'll Need

  • Calculator
  • Glucometer
  • Food diary
  • Blood sugar log
  • Calculate your Body Mass Index (BMI). Multiply your weight in pounds by 703. Divide that number by your height in inches. Divide that number again by your height in inches. Example: (143 lb. x 703)/66 inches/66 inches = 23

  • Determine your weight status based on your BMI. Normal: 18.5-24.9; Overweight: 25-29.9; Obese 30+.

  • Estimate your daily caloric intake based on your weight status. If you are normal weight you need about 1,800 to 2,000 calories per day. If you are overweight you need about 1,600 calories per day. If you are obese you need about 1,200 to 1,400 calories per day.

  • Multiply your caloric needs by .43. Roughly 40 to 45 percent of your calories should come from carbohydrates. Divide that number by 4 to give you the number of carbohydrate grams to eat per day as there are 4 calories per gram of carbohydrate.

  • Divide your daily number of carbohydrates by 15. This will give you the number of carbohydrate exchanges you are allowed per day as there are 15 grams of carbohydrate in one exchange. Example: .43 x 2000 calories = 860 calories/4 = 215 grams. 215/15 = 14 carbohydrate exchanges per day.

  • Plan your meals based on the number of carbohydrates you are allowed per day. Allot a certain number for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks. A good starting point is 45 grams (3 exchanges) for breakfast, lunch and dinner with 15 to 30 grams (1 to 2 exchanges) at snacks.

  • Test your blood sugar two hours after you eat. If your blood sugar is above 180 mg/dL after meals, you need to reevaluate your carbohydrate portion size. If your blood sugar is above 130 mg/dL in the morning, you may need to adjust your insulin dosages.

  • Keep a blood sugar log and food diary. By tracking your numbers and food intake you can detect patterns and figure out what may be contributing to highs or lows.

  • Know your hemoglobin A1C. Your primary doctor or endocrinologist should check this every three months. Your hemoglobin A1C is an average number of how you have managed your blood sugar levels. You want this number to be less than 7 percent.

Tips & Warnings

  • Learn what carbohydrate and the exchange system are. Sugar and fiber fall under the umbrella of carbohydrates. If you get hungry increase your protein and non-starchy vegetable intake. Carbohydrate counting and blood sugar management is a highly subjective, individualized process and often takes trial and error to figure out your unique eating plan. If you are having difficulty on your own, find a registered dietitian. If your appropriate meal plan has been established and your numbers are still off, your doctor may need to adjust your medication regimen.
  • Do not skip meals, even if your blood sugar is high. Avoid blood sugar lows by planning snacks ahead. These guidelines do not apply to the pediatric population.

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