Category Archives: Carbohydrate counting

Tricks part 3: use a reference book

Sometimes, I cook something from scratch, but it’s easier to just use a reference book than to calculate everything.  Two foods for which I do this are pancakes and mashed potatoes.

Before using this trick I ask myself is if what I make is pretty standard.  For both mashed potatoes and pancakes this is true.

When I make pancakes, I measure how big they are.  Last time I did this, the pancakes were about 4 inches in diameter.  Using the reference book Calorie King I see that a 4 inch pancake has about 11 grams of carbs.  I then add up the number of pancakes my child ate and multiply by 11 to get the total carbs from pancakes.  I add on the carbs for syrup and for anything else eaten to get a carb total for the meal.

I’m considering using a different reference book that should give more accurate results next time.  Think Like a Pancreas has an appendix of carb factors, and includes a carb factor of .28 for pancakes.  The weight of a pancake in grams is going to be much more precise than the diameter of something as unevenly shaped as a pancake.

This post completes the series I’m writing on tricks for carb counting.  Soon I’ll start a similar series for the cases where these tricks don’t apply.


Tricks part 2: mostly one ingredient

If a food that I make is mostly one high carb ingredient, with small amounts of very low carb ingredients mixed in, I carb count this food based on the carbs in the high carb ingredient.  I’m going to share a family recipe for macaroni and cheese to illustrate this.

Baked macaroni and cheese
Recipe type: main
Cuisine: American
  • 1 box elbow macaroni (or other shape, such as shells or rotini)
  • 1 lb shredded cheddar cheese (or Colby Jack or Mexican blend)
  • oil or shortening to grease a pan
  1. Cook pasta in salted boiling water according to package directions.
  2. While the pasta is cooking, grease a 8x12 glass baking dish (other pans of similar size work, too). Also, preheat the oven to 350° F. (This recipe can cook at a different temperature if it needs to share the oven with another dish.)
  3. Drain the pasta when it is done.
  4. Pour half (or a little more) of the pasta into the baking dish.
  5. Sprinkle the pasta in the pan with about half the cheese. (If you are using several cheeses, put the gooier cheese like Colby Jack in this layer and save the flavorful cheese like cheddar for the later layer.)
  6. Put the remaining pasta in the dish, followed by the remaining cheese.
  7. Bake until cheese on top is completely melted.
Serving size: 1 generous cup Carbs: 40 g


In this recipe, the only ingredient that has significant carbs is the pasta.  1 cup of pasta has 20 grams of carbs.  We measure the macaroni and cheese to a heaping cup because the cheese takes up a little bit of space, so a heaping cup of macaroni and cheese has about the same carbs as a non-heaping cup of macaroni.

If I serve my child 1/2 heaping cup macaroni and cheese, I count this as 20 grams of carbs.

I also use this method for homemade fried rice or pasta with a little oil and garlic.

Tricks part 1: from a recipe

In this series of posts, we’ll look at a few tricks that only apply to some recipes.  They’re good to know because when they apply they are usually the easiest method.  The first of these is to use a recipe that does most of the work for you!


The particular example I’ll be using is a loaf of homemade bread that I made yesterday.  It’s the ‘100% Whole Wheat Sandwich Bread’ recipe on page 182 of King Arthur Flour’s Whole Grain Baking.  I followed the recipe carefully, and after the recipe, the book has nutrition information.  I’m going to reproduce most of the nutrition information from the cookbook to use as an example.

NUTRITION INFORMATION PER SERVING (1 SLICE, 49G) 21g whole grains, 124 cal, 3g fat, 4g protein, 17g complex carbohydrates, 2g sugar, 3g dietary fiber, 8mg cholesterol, 193 mg sodium, …

To use this for carb counting, I start by noting that one serving weighs 49 grams.  I don’t use the slice as a serving, because it’s just too subjective.  Each serving has 17 grams of carbs in the form of complex carbohydrates, 2 grams of carbs as sugar, and 3 grams of carbs as fiber.  Adding these together, we get 22 grams of carbs per serving.  I divide 22 by 49 to get 0.4490… so I round this to a carb factor of 0.45.

To use this carb factor, I weigh a piece of bread I have cut.  As an example, a piece of bread could weigh 32 grams before buttering.  This bread has 32 * 0.45 = 14 grams of carbs.

This method works well for any recipe that has nutrition information.  I will post later a list of some of my favorite cookbooks that have nutrition information.

Basic carb counting

When a kid is diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, part of the training for the parents is how to count carbs.  Unfortunately, the teaching that I received was just about counting packaged food, not food cooked from scratch.  After a few months, I gained enough confidence to try to carb count the food that I made before diagnosis.  This post starts with what you should know when you get to this point.  If you’re not there yet, please look over the resources here to see that this will eventually be possible, and just concentrate on getting through each day.  I would love to have you come back here when you’re ready.

Most of my carb counting relies on a ‘carb factor.’  For any food, the carb factor is the decimal between 0 and 1 that represents how much of the weight of a food is carbs.  It’s calculated by taking the carbs in a batch of food and dividing that by the weight of the batch of food in grams.  It’s used by multiplying the weight in grams of a portion of food by the carb factor.  The result is the carbs in that portion.

There are two ways to look at carb counting.  One is to look for tricks that only apply in some cases.  The other is to use the ingredients list and weight of a batch of food to calculate the carb factor.

I should note here that I don’t always use weight and a carb factor.  Sometimes it’s more helpful to know how many carbs there are in a cup of food or in one piece of food.  These details will make more sense when we look at examples in other posts that are coming soon.

What is type 1 diabetes?

Type 1 diabetes (often abbreviated T1D) is a condition where a person’s body is no longer able to make its own insulin.  This leaves a person’s body unable to use the sugar in the bloodstream.

Type 2 diabetes is an entirely different disease.  Because so many more people have type 2 diabetes, when most people mention diabetes, they mean type 2.

The usual treatment for type 1 diabetes is insulin.  The insulin can be injected or come through an insulin pump.  The amount of insulin has to match with the number of carbohydrates (carbs) in the food eaten.  This is where carb counting comes in.  The person with diabetes (or a caretaker for a small child) adds up the carbs in food eaten at each meal.

The American Diabetes Association has an explanation of type 1 diabetes.

The JDRF is an organization very involved in raising funds for diabetes research.

For parents caring for children with type 1 diabetes, this community can be very supportive and helpful.  They have a forum for posting questions.