How Many Grams of Carbs Equals One Carbohydrate Choice?

Boxes Of Popcorn
Boxes Of Popcorn. Rob Kim/Getty Images for Showtime

If you're using the diabetic exchange system, then you will have a meal plan that breaks down the food you can have with each meal as choices. For instance, you might have one carbohydrate choice and one very lean protein choice. One carbohydrate choice is usually equal to 15 grams of carbohydrate (or often, 10 to 15 grams). 

Carb Counting Versus the Exchange System

The exchange system does the math for you. Rather than reading labels and calculating carbs, the diabetic exchange lists provide you with "choices" that are roughly equal to each other in terms of carbohydrate (and, for the other categories, including vegetables, proteins, and fat).

A carbohydrate choice should equal 80 calories, 15 grams of carbohydrate and zero grams of fat. That doesn't mean that every carbohydrate choices is the same serving size. For instance, each of these servings of food is equivalent to one carbohydrate choice:

  • 3 cups of popcorn
  • 1 slice of bread (1 ounce)
  • 1/2 cup cooked pasta

For more flexibility with meal planning, many people prefer the carb counting method. With carb counting, you can use food labels, or look up nutrition facts on the USDA's nutrient database, to find how many grams of carbohydrates are in a serving of the food you're eating. With this method of diabetic meal planning, instead of shooting for a target number of carbohydrate servings at each meal, you'll have a target for "grams of carbohydrate." As an example, many people might be targeting between 45 and 60 grams of carbohydrate for a meal and 15 to 30 grams of carbohydrate for a snack. (Remember that everyone's individual needs are different. You should work with a registered dietitian and/or your doctor to find your own targets for carbohydrate).

Calculating Carb Servings From Grams of Carbohydrate

If you'd like to then translate the total grams of carbohydrate in a serving of food into "carbohydrate servings," you can take the total number of grams of carbohydrate and divide by 15.

So for instance, say you want to figure out how many carb servings are in a serving of lasagna. If you look up lasagna in the nutrient database, you'll see that a 1 cup serving has 31 grams of carbohydrate. Divide by 15 and you get 2 (it's okay to round up or down to the closest whole number). So that 1-cup serving of lasagna is worth two carbohydrate servings.

Other Ways to Find Nutrition Information

There are a lot of resources available to help you figure out the serving sizes and gram counts. In the U.S., food labels are required to have nutrition facts on them. Carbohydrates per serving are listed on these labels, as well as fat grams and other information. If the food you are going to eat doesn't have a label, there are books and pamphlets with carb values for many different foods. 

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