Counting Carbs For Diabetes
Counting Carbs for insulin-to-carbohydrate ratios
Counting carbohydrates (carbs) is a method of meal planning that diabetics used to control their blood glucose and thereby reduce their diabetes medications. This method is based on counting the number of grams of carbohydrates in food. Carb counting is especially important to diabetics who need insulin such as Type 1 diabetics and Type 2 diabetics with greatly reduced insulin production. Carb counting can also be used by diabetics on Type 2 medications. Controlling the number of carbs eaten can help them to reduce the amount of medications they need.
Food scientists have calculated the carbohydrate content of most foods. The amount of carbohydrates in a particular food item is listed on the packaging for the food item. For some food items that come without packaging, such as fruits and vegetables, diabetics should search online for the approximate amount of carbohydrates contained in an unmarked food. Then weigh the pieces they are about to eat to figure out the amount of carbs they will get. Some scales like the Cesto Digital Nutritional Kitchen Scale >>> are programmed to
give the carb content of specific food items.
The body responds to carbohydrates eaten by first releasing enzymes to break down the carbohydrates into simple sugars like glucose. Then, the pancreas releases insulin to convert the glucose to usable energy and cell building material. The amount of insulin required to break down glucose (from carbohydrates) consumed is the insulin-to-carbohydrate ratio – or I:C ratio.
Everyone needs a different amount of insulin to convert the glucose (from carbohydrates) they consume. Therefore, diabetics will need to spend some time figuring out how to calculate their own I:C ratio. We recommend diabetics on insulin to work with their health care provider to determine what their I:C ratios are, and methods of calculating these ratios vary from doctor to doctor. Keep in mind that your I:C ratio may change slightly during the day. Many factors effect insulin sensitivity such as:
- Hormone levels varies slightly during the day
- Menstrual cycle – effects hormone levels
- Physical activity – enhances insulin sensitivity
- Muscle mass – enhances insulin sensitivity
- Body fat – reduces insulin sensitivity
Diabetics also need to be aware that their I:C ratios will vary over time. Therefore, diabetics should maintain accurate records of their blood-glucose levels and food consumption so that they can monitor how they bodies respond to carbohydrates over time.
Heads up: Diabetics should not expect to be able to forgo their prescription medications altogether by counting carbohydrates. Instead, carbohydrate counting can help them to limit the amount of carbohydrates they consume, which may help to reduce the amount of medication they need to process those carbohydrates. Diabetics should always speak with their health care providers when determining how much medication they need – and whether it is okay for them to reduce their doses.
Basic math of carb counting
People who are insulin-resistant will need more insulin for each gram of carbohydrates than people who are insulin sensitive. For example, an average adult might require one unit of insulin for every 15 grams of carbohydrates consumed. Therefore, his I:C ratio would be 1:15. Accordingly, if he ate 45 grams of carbs, he would divide 45 by 15 and get the answer 3. This means he would need 3 units of insulin.
In general, once diabetics know about how many units of insulin they need to cover their carbohydrate consumption, they can predict fairly accurately about how much insulin they will need to inject prior to consuming the carbohydrates. Type 2 diabetics may need to only inject enough insulin to cover about 50 percent of their insulin needs, as their bodies will already produce some insulin naturally. However, Type 1 diabetics who do not produce their own insulin may need to inject enough insulin to cover the entire amount of carbohydrates consumed. It is safer to underestimate the I:C ratio to avoid injecting more insulin than needed and suffer a low blood glucose (hypoglycemia) event.
Counting calories and carbohydrates can be confusing
In order to limit the amount of fat your body stores, it’s important to balance calorie and carbohydrate consumption with exercise and energy usage. This is where it’s easy to confuse the roles of calories and carbohydrates and their affects on body fat – and why so many people think carbohydrates are “bad” foods because of their calorie count. We’ll break it down simply so you can really understand what you should be counting when you count calories and carbohydrates.
First, make sure you understand what a calorie is. A calorie is a basic U.S. unit of measure of food energy. It is a measure of heat energy. Every pound of body fat has exactly 3,500 calories in it. Here is the number of calories found in foods:
- Carbohydrates contain 4 calories per gram
- Protein contains 4 calories per gram
- Fat contains 9 calories per gram.
- Alcohol (ethanol) contains 7 calories per gram
As you can see, carbohydrates provide a modest amount of calories in exchange for all of the nutritional benefits – and energy sources – you get from them. So why are so many people concerned about counting carbohydrates? The answer is simple, carbohydrates are the foods that convert to both blood glucose and fat.
Fat happens when carbohydrates are not used up during an activity or exercise. High blood glucose levels happen when insulin is not effective in breaking glucose down or when the pancreas does not secrete enough insulin to break down the glucose. Therefore, while everyone needs to be concerned about consuming too many carbohydrates, diabetics should pay extra-careful attention to make sure that they regulate their blood glucose levels after consuming carbs. Using a blood sugar meter is one way to monitor how well insulin breaks down blood glucose.
Diabetics have to learn how their bodies respond to carbohydrates. Every diabetic is different, of course, so new diabetics will have to learn through trial-and-error. A good way to learn how your body responds to different carbohydrates is to consume the carbohydrate and then test your blood sugar level about 30 minutes after and then about 90 minutes later to see how long it takes your body to break down the glucose. Many diabetics are constantly testing how their bodies react to different foods, so try not to get too overwhelmed when you first start comparing how different carbohydrates work with your body. Take notes for your records.
What is the controversy of “net” carbs?
If you’ve been reading up on the Atkins Diet, Keto, or Biochem nutritional reports, you may have come across the term “net carbs.” Some researchers and food manufacturers believe that carbohydrate counters should only count “net carbs” or “impact carbs,” which, they say, is only a portion of the total carbohydrate. To find out the net carbohydrate amount of foods, take the total carbohydrate amount, minus fiber, glycerine, sugar alcohols, and polydextrose (the latter two, of which, some believe have only a negligible effect on blood sugar levels).
According to individuals who believe that net carbs should be weighed differently than total carbohydrates, non-impact carbs do not impact blood sugar levels and should, therefore, not factor into the total carbohydrate count for foods.
As the difference between net carbs and total carbs is controversial for many people, diabetics should make their own decisions about whether or not to rely on net carbs or total carbs when they tally their carbohydrate intake. Diabetics may also want to evaluate the way their bodies respond to both types of carbohydrates, as they may notice some differences that affect them.
Again, not all diabetics respond the same way to the same foods, so this is another situation in which diabetics should be sure to keep track of their food intake and the way their blood glucose levels respond as they determine how much insulin to use when consuming different types of carbohydrates.