While other people may simply feel guilty after downing an entire bowl of cheesy pasta and half a pan of brownies, diabetics pay for it with unstable blood sugars and the need for another insulin poke. This is why a carb-conscious approach to meals is necessary.
Why Count Carbs?
For diabetics, counting carbohydrates is a way to match insulin requirements to the foods they eat and drink. For Type 2 diabetics who don’t require insulin injections, carb counting is a way to monitor how carbs affect their blood glucose levels and to help manage their weight and medication intake.
Although it takes patience and diligence at first, once you learn how to count carbs correctly, you’ll find it much easier to add a variety and combination of foods into your meal plan. This means you can easily switch out one frozen dinner for another and know exactly how much insulin you’ll need. And as any diabetic will tell you, better blood glucose management means better overall health.
Total VS Net Carbs – The Right and Wrong Way to Count.
It should go without saying that counting carbs is better than not counting carbs. That being said, if you’re going to count them, you should be aware there is a right and wrong way to do it—or better, there is a “right” and “more right” way of counting carbs.
While total carbs can predict the blood glucose impact of any food you eat, there may be other components of the food that will, at the exact same time, reduce that impact.
For example, fiber is a common component of food that actually reduces the net effect of the carbs in that food. This is why fruit will always have less of an impact on blood sugar than cake.
Fiber should actually be subtracted from, not added to, your insulin dosage because it reduces the overall effect of the carbohydrates. A person who bases their insulin dosage completely on the total carbs instead of net carbs, when their meal had a lot of fiber in it, might actually end up taking too much insulin and potentially have their blood glucose dip too low.
This gets tricky, though, because you can’t always take “net carbs” at face value. Sometimes sugar alcohols are also subtracted for you in the “net” carbs tally. Thanks to the Atkins Diet, a lot of food labeling has subtracted sugar alcohols from the carb count because these sugars have no impact on weight. But they most certainly do have an impact on blood sugar.
So, if you buy an Atkins breakfast bar, for example, and it only has “2 net carbs” because fiber and sugar alcohol have been subtracted, know that this bar could actually have closer to 25 or 30 carbs.
Also understand that the FDA does not regulate use of these terms, and what is listed as “net carbs” can vary dramatically from product to product. Some might only subtract fiber, some subtract fiber and sugar alcohol, and some subtract both plus (or minus) grams of protein.
Read Those Food Labels!
To count carbs the right way, you’ll need to read the label carefully and do a little math:
- Find the total carbs listed (ex: 35)
- Find the total fiber listed and subtract half from the total carbs (ex: 8, so 35 – 4 = 31)
- Next, find the sugar alcohol (listed under sugars) and subtract half of that from your new total (ex: 12, so 31 – 6 = 25)
- The number you arrive at (25) is your bolusable carb count, and you’ll most likely find it is significantly higher than the “net carb” count on the front of the package.
Counting carbs correctly boils down to having a discerning eye when it comes to looking at food labels. As long as you take fiber and sugar alcohol into consideration and do your own calculations, you should have no problem safely managing your blood glucose.