Carbohydrate counting is a concept of assigning certain foods a carbohydrate exchange number and then assigning each meal and snack time a certain number of exchanges. A 2000-calorie diet would typically include 4 carbohydrate exchanges for each meal and between 1 and 2 carbohydrate exchanges per snack time. Each exchange is worth 15 grams of carbohydrate. For example, 1 slice of bread is approximately one carbohydrate exchange since it is about 15 grams of carbohydrate. Other common carbohydrate exchanges include:
Those foods that are protein-based such as beef, chicken, and seafood, unless they are prepared with a carbohydrate-containing sauce, are worth 0 exchanges. Also, certain vegetables that are very low in carbohydrates are considered “free” foods, which means they are worth zero exchanges.
This eating regimen can take some getting used to and can involve keeping a food diary and carbohydrate exchange guide in the beginning. Once you follow the program for a while, it can get easier and journaling may not be necessary to keep track of your carbohydrate exchanges. This regimen can make insulin dosing a little easier since you and your healthcare provider can provide the appropriate insulin dose based upon the number of exchanges you eat at certain times of day.
However, carbohydrate counting is not for everyone. If you feel like this method would not work for you, then ask your healthcare provider for other options such as meeting with a diabetes-trained dietitian to get a meal plan, the plate method, or just cutting out concentrated sugars and processed foods. The important thing is to find an eating regimen that is going to work best with your lifestyle and is something you will be able to stick with long-term to help control your diabetes.