Diabetes Forecast

Can You Put a Number on Carbs?

I'd appreciate learning about how many grams of carbohydrate I should eat as a guideline to keep my glucose numbers normal. Linda DeAngelis

Jill Weisenberger, MS, RD, CDE, responds:

Carbohydrate affects blood glucose more than fat and protein do in the diet, so it is important to eat an appropriate amount. If you eat too much at one time, your blood glucose may become elevated shortly after eating. If you take certain kinds of blood glucose–lowering medications, eating too little may cause hypoglycemia (low blood glucose).

What to Know:

The proper amount of carbohydrate varies with the person and depends on medications, blood glucose targets, activity level, degree of insulin resistance, and other individual differences. It's best to concentrate on the number of carbohydrate grams you eat at each meal or snack, not just your daily total. Typically, women can eat about 45 grams of carbohydrate or more at each meal. Men, because of their larger size, may achieve normal blood glucose values with 60 or more grams of carbohydrate per meal. It's important to spread your carbohydrate intake over your day. If, for example, you ate very little carbohydrate at lunch and a big plate of spaghetti for dinner, you may experience a low after lunch and high blood glucose after dinner.

Find Out More:

The proof is in the numbers. To see if 45 grams of carbohydrate per meal is right for you, measure your blood glucose right before eating a meal containing roughly 45 grams of carbohydrate. Then measure it again two hours after the start of your meal. The difference between the numbers is largely the effect of the meal and, in general, should be no more than 40 mg/dl higher than your premeal number. Do these paired measurements a few times at breakfast, lunch, and dinner over several days (weekday and weekend) to take note of patterns. A registered dietitian or a certified diabetes educator will be able to help you interpret your results and tweak your meal plan.


Don't fear carbohydrate. Balanced meals created from healthful sources of carbohydrate, protein, and fat provide optimal health and energy levels, satisfy and keep you feeling full, and help to prevent the complications of diabetes and other health problems. Your provider can help you determine if you need a change in what you eat and/or medications to reach your blood glucose targets.



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