Category Archives: Carbohydrate counting

Foods I’m not sure how to carb count

So far, I’ve been sharing about things that I have worked out a good way to count carbs.  Today I’m going to look at a few things that I don’t have a good answer about yet.

  • marinated meat (I can count the carbs in the marinade, but I’m not sure how to decide how much stuck to the meat)
  • beef stew (the total amount is hard to measure)
  • Greek yogurt (I don’t know if the carbs end up in the whey or in the Greek yogurt)

Homemade soups and cassaroles are also difficult.

It seems that the things that can make carb counting hard are the following:

  • part of the food doesn’t get used
  • the total recipe is too large to conveniently measure

Of course, the other issue is for a mixed food like a cassarole or soup where a small child might pick through and only eat some parts.

For others who are struggling with similar issues, the best suggestion I can make is to take your best estimate.

What do others struggle with how to carb count?

The pie story

Fruit pie has always been one of my favorite desserts.  It’s one of the first desserts I took the time to learn to make well when I started needing to cook for myself.  And yet I went without it for almost two years.

The problem with fruit pie is that when you cut into it, the filling pours out, so there’s no way to make sure that the 1/8 of the pie crust that you serve someone has almost exactly 1/8 of the filling.  With something as high carb as fruit pie, this means that there’s too much uncertainty as to the carb total to feed it to a small child with diabetes.  I didn’t want to thicken up the filling, because I don’t like pie fillings that are gelatinous or starchy.  For this reason, I did not make any fruit pie, and so did not eat any fruit pie, for almost two years after my daughter’s diagnosis with diabetes.  There were times when it seemed like I was crying because I wanted fruit pie, although of course I was really crying about diabetes in many ways.

Then, instead of making a birthday cake for myself, I tried to make individual blueberry pies in canning jars, following an idea in King Arthur Flour’s blog.  They were good, but they somehow didn’t qualify as fruit pie.  I think that the shape and the filling to topping ratio were just off a bit.  Also, the filling and crust were cooked separately.  The carb counting was OK, though, which was encouraging.

Then, about a month ago I remembered that I had mini pie pans in the cabinet.  They make about 1/4 of an 8″ pie.  I made apple pies with these, and gave my child with diabetes half of one.  This was OK, I can split something in half and eye how much of the escaped filling goes with it.  Now, I can make fruit pie occasionally.  I found myself in tears again that night after the rest of the family was in bed.  I had fought one more little piece of normal away from diabetes, and it was one that was important to me.

Before I could make fruit pie, I needed several things.  I needed the idea of making small pies so that the carb counting was reasonable.  Also, I needed the confidence to tackle a food with such a high carb total.  This experience reinforces my belief that there is no real food that my child cannot eat if I put enough thought and effort into it.

No tricks part 4: lemonade

This post completes the series on basic carb counting without tricks.

Here’s how I would carb count homemade lemonade:

I make lemonade by pouring 1 cup of lemon juice and 1 cup of sugar into a 2 quart pitcher.  Then I fill the pitcher with water.  The water has no carbs, and the lemon has little enough that I don’t count it.  Thus, the carbs in the pitcher are 200 grams.

I know that I will measure my child’s portion of lemonade by volume, so I use the fact that the batch of lemonade is 2 quarts, or 8 cups.  Thus, each cup of lemonade has 200/8 =25 grams of carbs.  I would write down the number 25 grams per cup, even though we have been told to limit sugary drinks to 1/2 cup a day for our child with diabetes.

Are there any kinds of foods that you, the readers, would like to know how to carb count?

what ingredients have carbs

When carb counting food cooked from scratch, it can help to know what ingredients have carbs before starting to cook, because others don’t even need to be measured as carefully.  The following ingredients I assume have no carbs:

  • herbs, spices (be careful of blends, though, some contain sugar) fresh or dry
  • meat (plain meat, like chicken, not processed meat like hot dogs, sausages, or meatballs)
  • chicken or beef broth
  • yeast
  • baking powder, baking soda
  • fats such as oils, butter, and lard
  • eggs (some sources say 1 gram of carbs each)

Ingredients that are high carb and always need to be counted carefully:

  • flour (of any kind)
  • fruit and fruit juice (except for small amounts of lemon or lime juice)
  • starchy vegetables such as corn or potatoes
  • sugar (of any kind)
  • cornstarch
  • bread and breadcrumbs
  • chocolate and other candy
  • oats and other grains
  • sourdough starter

Ingredients of medium carbs, count large amounts but not small ones:

  • onion, garlic
  • carrots
  • peppers
  • processed meats such as hot dogs, sausages, and meatballs

If you are uncertain about any ingredient, it’s always safer to check the package or a carb counting guide book than to make assumptions.  Also, in general those counting carbs for smaller children will need to be more cautious than those counting carbs for older children.

If you see any inaccuracies in the above list or anything important left out, please leave a comment.


Ok, so all parents understand part of this frustration.  You work hard to make delicious, healthy food for your family,… and then one of the kids doesn’t like it, and lets you know this in no uncertain terms.  Maybe they even refuse to try it.  Positively maddening.

However, for those of us caring for small children with diabetes, this frustration can get even worse.  Not only  have we put in the time to cook a meal, but we’ve also spent the time and care to carb count it.  The cooking also benefits the rest of the family.  We even get to enjoy the food.  The carb counting is only for the sake of this one child.  And then they won’t eat the food.

I could suggest philosophical resignation… It’s good practice carb counting.  However, that doesn’t make me feel any better.  What does make me feel better is to remember that it’s my job to take care of this precious little one, and even if she won’t eat this food, I had to be prepared in case she did.  I’m glad to do what I must to take care of her.  This same determination (it’s not just an emotion) that gets me through the 3am alarm clock for a night check can get me through this frustration.

(I know some families would push harder than I do to require a child to eat what is provided.  I’m not willing to do that, because it’s hard enough for a child with type 1 diabetes to have a healthy food attitude without the added pressure.)

kitchen tools for carb counting

To go along with my posts on the basics of carb counting, I thought I would talk about some of the tools that I use frequently in cooking while carb counting for diabetes care.

The one device that many home cooks don’t have that I couldn’t live without is my digital scale.  Mine is intended for baking, so all it gives me is the weight, to the nearest gram or nearest 1/8 oz.  It does not try to count carbs for me.  I had it for several years before my child’s diagnosis for baking, but then I used it about once a week.  Now I use it on average about 5 times a day.  I even use it to measure sandwich spreads.

I also have a more generous supply of volume measuring devices than most.  I have two sets (exactly the same so they are interchangeable) of metal dry measuring cups.  I also have several different liquid measuring cups, including the Emsa Perfect Beaker.

These are the only tools that I would say are influenced by the carb counting.

Why so careful?

To those who do not care for small children with type 1 diabetes, it may seem that I’m going overboard with the detail in my carb counting.  However, this is the level of detail that I find necessary.  I’m feeding a small child who sometimes eats meals as small as 15 grams of carbs.  To be off by three grams of carbs would mean an error of 20% in carb total, and so 20% in her insulin dose.

When we eat at restaurants, I obviously don’t have this degree of accuracy, because I’m not going to bring a scale and measuring cups with us.  I just estimate fractions by eye, and do my best.  I often will check blood sugar about 2 hours after insulin to check for a low just in case I was off by a lot.

Just like nutrition and parenting, in carb counting I do the best that I can and then try to let go of the things I can’t do quite right.  It’s the overall pattern that matters more than any specific instance.  Our wonderful diabetes team has set up a structure that will catch any errors before they can harm my wonderful child.

No tricks part 3: bread


Here I’m going to describe my basic method of how to count carbohydrates in something I am cooking from scratch.  I’ll be using a bread recipe from the 1961 Betty Crocker’s New Picture Cook Book to illustrate the procedure.

I start out making the bread according to the recipe, measuring more carefully that I perhaps would otherwise.

When carb counting, first I add up the carbs in a batch of bread.  In the case of this recipe, yeast, water, salt, and shortening have no carbs.  The ingredients that do have carbs are 7 cups of flour and 3 tablespoons of sugar.  I know that King Arthur flour has 88 grams of carbs a cup, so there are 7×88=616 grams of carbs in flour.  Each tablespoon of sugar has 12 grams of carbs per tablespoon, so there are 3×12=36 grams of carbs from sugar in the bread.  Further, 36+616=652 so the whole batch of bread has about 650 grams of carbs.


When the bread comes out of the oven and out of the pans, I weigh both loaves (in grams, not ounces).  The loaves weighed 738 and 746 grams.  Thus, the total weight of bread made from this batch is 1484 grams.

Then I divide 652 grams of carbs by 1484 grams mass to find a carb factor of 0.45 for this bread.

My child’s portion of bread weighed 56 grams, so she ate 0.45 x 56 = 25 grams of carbs from bread. I record this carb factor of 0.45 both in the cook book and someplace where I can find it easily until the bread is gone.

No tricks part 2: a cookie


In today’s post I’ll be showing how to carb count homemade cookies.  The recipe I’ll be using is Alton Brown’s recipe for chocolate chip cookies called ‘The Chewy.’  It can be found in the Good Eats volume 1 cookbook page 166, or at Food Network’s website.

I followed the recipe as written, including the use of a #20 disher to measure the dough.  I left the disher a little heaped.


While the cookies were in the oven, I calculated the carbs in one batch of dough.  The ingredients that had carbs were the following:

  • 12 oz bread flour, at 21 grams of carbs per ounce, so 252 grams of carbs
  • 10 oz sugar (2 oz white, 8 oz brown) at 28 grams of carbs per ounce, so 280 grams of carbs
  • 12 oz chocolate chips, or a whole bag.  The bag contained 24 servings at 9 grams of carbs per serving, so 216 grams of carbs.
  • 2 tablespoons of milk has carbs, but not enough to consider in this case

Thus, the batch of dough had 748 grams of carbs.  I found that this time the dough made 20 cookies, so each cookie had 748/20=37.5 grams of carbs.  I wrote down this number where I could find it until the cookies were gone, and I recorded 748 grams of carbs per batch in the cookbook next to the recipe to make things easier next time.  I don’t reuse the carb count per cookie because sometimes I get more or fewer cookies out of the same recipe.  I think it has to do with how much I scrape the top of the disher.

There’s one more trick I want to mention.  Sometimes there’s almost a cookie worth of dough that sticks to the side and bottom of the bowl and to the mixer blade.  If this happens, it can be helpful to calculate the carbs as if the recipe had made one extra cookie.  In this case I didn’t need to because I used a spatula to gather the dough up.

These cookies may have a very high carb count, but they’re also huge cookies.  They could easily be made with a #40 disher to be standard sized, or something between #20 and #40 for a large but not giant cookie.

No tricks part 1: the method

Sometimes the tricks for carb counting that I’ve been looking at in the last few posts don’t apply.  Then what do we do?  The following steps are how I work through these situations:

  1. Add up the carbs in the whole batch of what I’m making.
  2. Figure out how much of the stuff I made.  This can be weight, volume, or count.
  3. Divide the total carbs by how much to find out how many carbs are in one thing, or how many carbs are in 1 gram of food, or how many carbs are in some reasonable volume of food.
  4. Write down this number so that I can use it until the food is gone.  I often write it down so that I can reuse it every time I make the same recipe.

First let’s look in more detail at step 1.  To find the carbs in the whole batch, I first think about which ingredients have carbs.  I’ll post later some help with this.  Then I make a list of the ingredients with carbs, and how much of each I used.  I calculate how many grams of carbs are in the amount used of each ingredient.  Then I add the carbs for the ingredients together, which gives the total carbs in the whole batch.

The hard part of step 2 is knowing whether to use weight, volume, or count.  I count the items if the items are distinct and all of the same shape and size.  This works for cookies that are all the same, cupcakes, or rolls.  If I don’t use count, I think about how I want to measure my child’s portion.  For bread or cheesecake, I cut a portion and then weigh it, so I use the weight of the whole batch.  For lemonade, I measure a portion in a measuring cup, so I use the total volume of the pitcher of lemonade.

Step 3 is a single mathematical calculation, and so I’m not going to add any comments on it.

For step 4, the only  explanation I want to give now is exactly what I write down.  I always write the number I calculate in step 3 somewhere I can find it for as long as I expect the food to last.  If it’s something I store for a while, I often use my label maker.  If I expect to make the recipe the same way every time, I also write on my recipe the number from step 3.  If I carb count by number of items like cookies or biscuits, I instead write on the recipe the number from step 1, because then I can easily recalculate if I make the food a different size the next time.  Also, even though I use a disher for cookies, I never seem to get exactly the same number out of a recipe.

The remaining posts in this series will be a few examples of this procedure.