Simple tools to get a working knowledge of carb counting

Friday, 26 March 2021

As a dietitian working in diabetes, I have what I would call a working knowledge of the carb content of food. My husband, who has type 1 diabetes, tends to ask me how much carb is in his food if I’m around, but he has done several courses in carb counting over the years and can read labels when he has to. Sometimes, if I’m around, he prefers not to.

CarbSmart programs

It can be difficult to estimate the carb content of foods when eating out, if food doesn’t have a label.  Sometimes you can just go blank and need to look up the amount of carb in a food.

Your dietitian may have given you a cheat sheet for carb counting. If you come to one of Diabetes NSW & ACT CarbSmart programs we will give you a small carb counting booklet which is useful but not comprehensive.

For comprehensive carb counting, I use an app on my phone or computer, or even one of the ‘old fashioned’ pocket-sized books with carb counts.

Use Australian data

The formulation of Australian food is different to other countries so using a resource which accesses Australian food data is important for accurate carb counting.

These are the resources I use:

  • Easy Diet Diary app – free for Apple and Android phones. It uses Australian food data. Your dietitian can access your data if they have the professional program and you allow them.
  • Calorie King (Australian) app, website or pocket book – the app is free for Apple and Android phones with advertisements. You can pay a monthly or yearly subscription to access ad free information. You can buy a pocket book called Allan Borushek’s Calorie, Fat and Carbohydrate Counter from newsagents and book stores for a small cost, with a new edition being released in April. It lists Australian food data.

Measuring cups and kitchen scales

Having a set of measuring cups and small electronic kitchen scales are helpful for carb counting. You may not you have to use them all the time but while you’re learning or doing a refresher they’re helpful to calculate the carb content of foods you eat frequently. Also, they’re helpful for the family cook to let you know how much of the carb containing food you have been served.

Compare to your hand

It helps to know a bit about the weight of standard sizes of foods, so if you are in the kitchen weigh or measure an average serve of your favourite carb containing food and compare it to your hand/fist/finger. When you are out it will help guide your calculations for weight or cup sizes when you use your handy app or pocket book.

Troubleshoot your carbs

If your blood glucose unexpectedly goes high or low doing some trouble shooting later on can be helpful. Check to see if you’re over- or under-estimating the carb content of your food. Sometimes food manufacturers change food formulations or product sizes without warning. Maybe your family cook modified a favourite recipe or serve unexpectedly.

To summarise:

  • Learn the approximate weight or cup size of your favourite carb foods
  • Use an app or pocket book with Australian food data to calculate the carb content

Happy carb counting!

By Dale Cooke, Accredited Practising Dietitian

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