How Many Carbs a Day are Right for Me?

Diabetes Diet is an Individualized Eating Plan

Grilled salmon and vegetable

According to the American Diabetes Association, people with diabetes eat about 45% of their calories from carbohydrate. And while this is an average, the total amount of carbohydrates you should eat in a day is different for everyone. In fact, studies have shown that there is no ideal amount of calories consumed from carbohydrate, fat, and protein. Instead, macronutrient amounts should be individualized. However, because carbohydrates affect blood sugar the most, monitoring carbohydrates whether by carbohydrate counting or estimated guessing can improve blood sugar control. 

Registered dietitians and certified diabetes educators can create individualized meal plans based on eating patterns, goals, food preferences, lifestyle and culture, etc. People with diabetes should choose good quality carbohydrates in controlled amounts. Some people benefit from eating a consistent carbohydrate diet, for example, eating the same amount of carbohydrates per meal daily (especially when taking fixed doses of insulin). Others practice estimated guess carbohydrate counting or eat lower carbohydrate diets. 

What Factors Determine How Many Carbs Are Right for Me?

Finding out the right amount of carbohydrates you should eat daily should be a collaborative effort between your healthcare provider, a dietitian or certified diabetes educator, and you. Factors that influence your carbohydrate intake are gender, weight, activity level, blood sugar numbers, etc. For example, if you are following a 1600 calorie diet and you are prescribed a diet that contains 45% of calories from carbohydrate then you would consume about 45—to—60 grams of carbohydrate per meal and 15—to—30 grams of carbohydrate for snack. 

How you divide these carbohydrates throughout the day will also depend on a variety of factors including: diabetes medicines (some medicines need to be taken with food and if you are taking insulin, the timing of your carbohydrates will matter), eating patterns, blood glucose response, exercise, to name a few. Studies have shown that eating a lower carbohydrate breakfast may help to improve weight and blood sugars. In addition, other studies suggest that a high fat, high protein breakfast can help to reduce blood sugars throughout the day. You can determine what works best for you. A good way to test, is to test your blood sugar before and after you eat. If your blood sugar is in target range two hours after a meal than you know your meal plan is working for you. 

Sample Meal Plan

The following meal plan provides roughly 45—to—60 grams of carbohydrate per meal.


3 egg whites with two slices of whole grain toast (30 g carbohydrate), lettuce, tomato

1 small piece of fruit (15 g carbohydrate)

Total carbohydrate: 45 g carbohydrate 


1 salad with lettuce, cucumber, carrot, 1/4 avocado (~5 g carbohydrate) 

1 cup low sodium lentil soup (30 g carbohydrate)

3 cups air popped popcorn (15 g carbohydrate)

Total carbohydrate: ~50 g carbohydrate


1 small apple (15 g carbohydrate)

1 tablespoon peanut butter 

Total carbohydrate: ~15 g carbohydrate 


4 oz grilled salmon

1 cup roasted asparagus with 1/2 cup cannellini beans (20 g carbohydrate )

1 large sweet potato (35 g carbohydrate)

Total carbohydrate: ~55 g carbohydrate


1 non fat plain Greek yogurt (7 g carbohydrate)

3/4 cup blueberries (15 g carbohydrate)

Total carbohydrate: ~22 g carbohydrate 

Where Can I Start if I Don't Have a Dietitian or CDE? 

Everyone with diabetes, especially those who are recently diagnosed, should receive diabetes self management education (DSME) on an on-going basis. DSME has been proven to help diabetes outcomes through individualized education. If you have not received this type of education ask your primary doctor about where you can find a certified diabetes educator.

Until then, you can start by implementing a modified, consistent carbohydrate diet. The American Diabetes Association recommends starting with about 45—to—60 grams of carbohydrate per meal. You may have to eat a lower carbohydrate diet, but testing your blood sugar before and after meals can help you to see if your meal plan is working. Ideally, two hours after eating your blood sugar should be less than 180mg/dL. If it is higher you may need to adjust your meal plan, by reducing your carbohydrate intake.

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Article Sources
  • American Diabetes Association. Carbohydrate Counting. Accessed on-line. October 25, 2015:
  • American Diabetes Association. Standards of Medical Care in Diabetes – 2015. Diabetes Care. 2015 Jan; 38 (Suppl 1): S1-90.