Monthly Archives: September 2014

A failed experiment

My family loves eating Alton Brown’s ‘The Chewy’ chocolate chip cookies.  Last Friday, tried making both his puffy and his thin chocolate chip cookie recipes.  However, the resulting cookies looked almost exactly the same!  When I investigated, it turned out that my baking powder was getting weak (i.e. it foamed gently in hot water, rather than bubbling vigorously), and the puffy cookie used baking powder while the other cookies I’ve been making use baking soda.

I plan to repeat the experiment some other time and post the results then, including pictures and carb counts.

The moral of the story: be careful of the age of your baking powder.

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.

Tastes good = unhealthy??

I’ve been reading The Taste of Sweet by Joanne Chen, and it has me thinking.  Do many people really equate ‘tastes good’ with unhealthy?  I don’t know that this is something I would ever have agreed with.

Of course, before you can answer this question, you have to decide what is ‘unhealthy’ food.  After reading and thinking, I’ve come to a conclusion that doesn’t agree with either the current orthodox opinion or the main competitor.  I do not believe that fat, saturated fat, or cholesterol in food is any measure of its healthiness.  I also do not believe that carbs, sugar, or wheat are unhealthy.  It’s processing and chemical ingredients that I have suspicions about.

What this means is that a homemade chocolate chip cookie isn’t on my ‘awful for you’ list.  It’s something that can be quite healthy in moderation (i.e. the family sharing a batch of homemade cookies or two a week).  A package of cookies from the grocery store is much more unhealthy, with the hydrogenated oils usually used, preservatives, and the fact that much more of the preparation is done in a factory.

How does this relate to taste?  Homemade chocolate chip cookies do taste much better than anything from the store.  So in this case, healthier and tastes better are the same foods.

Actually, this is probably an almost universal rule.  For any food which has both a packaged and homemade version, the homemade version is healthier because it is less processed.  It also can always be better tasting, if enough time and money are put into the effort.  However, none of us have the time and energy to do this for all foods.

Then we should consider the foods that just can’t be made at home.  Some foods can’t be made without the use of processes that we just can’t replicate at home.  In my mind, many of these are also the most unhealthy foods.

Some of these considerations also apply to ingredients.  White flour that has not been bleached or bromated has been made for over a century.  It’s not far beyond what we could do at home, if we wanted.  We at least can make whole wheat flour.  Canola and soybean oils require industrial processes that we cannot possibly do at home.  Olive oil and lard were made at home, or at least on family farms, for centuries if not longer.

Do I want to live on a farm and eat nothing that I have not grown and processed every step of the way myself?  No, of course not,  But I do want to eat foods where I could conceivably make that food truly from scratch myself (i.e. plant a seed or raise an animal), if in the proper climate.  Like other grand ideals, I need to do what I can and be at peace with the fact I could always do more.  This afternoon, the way this looks is the following:

  • My crockpot has been working all day on corned beef.  I brined it myself for the last week and a half, but I used a purchased spice mixture.
  • I just put two loaves of homemade white bread in the oven.  They could have been whole grain, but that wasn’t what I wanted today.  I did use unbleached, unbromated white flour from King Arthur Flour.  The recipe I used called for shortening, and so I used a palm oil shortening instead of hydrogenated or interesterified shortening.  I’m making bread of the kind I want to eat, using the best ingredients easily available to me.
  • I’ll be steaming a fresh vegetable later.  Not organic, so I could have done better, but still a fresh veggie.  I’ll probably serve it with a little butter and and herb or two.

As the above set of examples shows, I do what I can about nutrition, and refuse to feel any guilt for the things that I can’t or choose not to do.

Returning to the original question, I think that given my definition of healthy food as less processed, and a variety of foods, tasty does not in any way imply unhealthy.

I would like to hear what you, the reader think.  Do healthy and tasty conflict?

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.

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.