What is Carbohydrate Counting?

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  • Written By: Dorothy Distefano
  • Edited By: Michelle Arevalo
  • Last Modified Date: 07 June 2019
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Carbohydrate counting refers to the process of monitoring carbohydrate, or carb, intake in the diet. Diabetics often monitor carb intake as it directly affects blood glucose levels. Some diet plans advise the restriction of carbohydrates for weight loss.

Carbohydrates are basically the sugars and starches in our diets. Sugars are found in obvious places, such as desserts, and in less apparent sources, like milk and fruit. Breads, grains, rice, pasta, and potatoes are among the foods that are considered to be starches. Some carbohydrates are fiber-based, such as legumes. Many foods have a mixture of sugars, starches, and fiber.

Diabetics may use carbohydrate counting to manage blood glucose levels. When carbohydrates are consumed, most are converted to glucose, which is carried throughout the body in the bloodstream. In diabetes, the body does not produce enough insulin to metabolize the glucose, so elevated levels remain in the blood.

Dieters may choose to follow a regimen that utilizes carbohydrate counting with a goal of weight loss. Following a low carbohydrate diet usually requires counting the carbs ingested each day. There are many resources and variations of this type of diet available, but most rely on counting carbohydrate intake.


One of the key concepts in carbohydrate counting for weight loss is the calculation what is called net, or digestible carbs. This refers to the amount of carbohydrate that can be absorbed by the body through the gastrointestinal system. To figure out the net amount of carbohydrates in a particular food, take the total carb count and subtract the amount of dietary fiber, as fiber is not digested. The resulting number is the amount of carbohydrate left to be processed by the body.

When carbohydrate counting it is helpful to have a book, software program, or Internet reference available. Read food labels carefully. Nutritional information is provided per serving, so servings should be measured to ensure accuracy in calculations.

Depending on the diet that one is following, carbohydrate limitations will vary. Some diets require strict adherence to very low carb intake, regardless of the source of the carbs. Other diets allow inclusion of healthy carbs into the diet, in moderation.

Healthy carbs include whole grains, vegetables, and fruits that deliver fiber, vitamins, and minerals to the body. Other carbs, which should be consumed in moderation, include sugared sodas, desserts, white breads, rice, and other processed foods. It is important for good health to eat more healthy carbs, and limit the intake of quickly digested, less healthy carbohydrates.



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