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.
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
Cook pasta in salted boiling water according to package directions.
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.)
Drain the pasta when it is done.
Pour half (or a little more) of the pasta into the baking dish.
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.)
Put the remaining pasta in the dish, followed by the remaining cheese.
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.
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.
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.
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.
My kids and I love fruit on the bottom yogurt. It somehow always feels more ‘fruity’ than the yogurt with fruit flavor all over. I’ve been making my own yogurt for a long time, but we either ate it plain or put some jam on top in a bowl and stirred it in. It was far less convenient than the individual cartons, both to serve the kids and to carb count. So yesterday I made my own.
I started out by making my own yogurt. I used the instructions here, as usual. I don’t use organic milk, but I do use whole milk. Do not add dry milk, or that will change the carb totals.
Then I made a batch of blueberry goop for the yogurt. It’s not jam, because it has less sugar and is runny. It’s not syrup, because it has too many solid blueberries in it. It’s not pie filling, because it has no flour or other such thickener.
I made yogurt cups by putting 4 teaspoons of blueberry goop in the bottom of each 1 cup canning jar. Then I stirred up the yogurt (it got runny; this is OK) and put 3/4 cup of yogurt into each jar. Then I put a lid on each jar and refrigerated them overnight. The yogurt thickened back up as it cooled. Yum!
Total carb count per jar: 9 grams for the yogurt and 10 for the goop. This gives a total of 19 grams of carbs for a jar. This is about what a container of Greek yogurt from the store has, and about half what Yoplait or Dannon has.
I think this would turn out better in a wide mouth 1 cup jar. It would be easier to stir and eat.
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.
(To give credit where due, my thinking here is greatly influenced by Michael Pollan.)
Real food is food that is cooked or prepared, rather than manufactured. Most of it would be recognizable to our great-grandparents. If they wouldn’t recognize it (such as for ethnic foods) then someone else’s great-grandparents would. A homemade chocolate chip cookie is real food, even if its nutritional value is a little questionable. A chocolate chip cookie bought from the store in a plastic tray covered in foil is not real food.
I’m not saying that we should never eat anything else, but that most of what we eat should be real food. Closer to real food is better, but we all sometimes get that craving for factory produced fake food.
I’m going to be using the term ‘modern food’ to refer to the food products that aren’t real food. These are produced in a factory. The alternate terms ‘fake food’ or ‘industrial food’ both are more negative than my attitude toward modern food.
As another example, consider yogurt. In the strictest sense, real food yogurt is homemade, with no dry milk added (dry milk is a factory product by nature). A quart carton of plain, full fat yogurt without added gelatin or other thickeners from the store is one step away from real food. More chemicals or sickly sweet fruit flavors are more steps toward an industrial product instead of real food.
Sometimes modern food is the best we can manage. I think most families go through a time like this if a family member is diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. The carbohydrate counting is just so much easier from the package of industrial food. As time goes on, those families that want more food cooked from scratch pick up various methods to carb count real foods. My hope is that this blog will make this transition easier.
Meat can be real food. Meat raised more naturally is perhaps more in line with real food, but for me that’s not required to be real food. Real food means that to make a hamburger, you buy ground beef (or even better buy a roast and grind it yourself), shape it into a patty, and cook it. A premade patty (only meat, not seasonings or flavors) that is cooked at home is almost real food.
This blog is about how we at the Geek Den make and eat real food. I’ll post soon about what real food means here. One of my kids has type 1 diabetes, so there will be lots of information on carbohydrate counting while cooking from scratch.