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Tips for Carb Counting With Mealtime Insulin PA

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If oral and non-insulin injectable medications aren’t enough to control your type 2 diabetes, your doctor will likely talk to you about taking insulin. This may include mealtime insulin—rapid-acting insulin taken before or right after eating.

When discussing what you need to know about taking mealtime insulin, your healthcare provider will talk to you about carbohydrate counting, or carb counting. Your mealtime insulin dose will be calibrated according to the number of carbs you eat at a meal, so it’s important to understand the basics of carb counting.

Why You Need to Count Carbs

Your body needs three main kinds of nutrients: protein, fat, and yes, carbohydrates. Carbohydrates include starches, sugars, and fiber, and can be found in bread, dairy, starchy vegetables, fruits, pasta, rice, and other foods. Those carbs, in addition to often being delicious, provide important nutrients and energy.

When you digest food that contains carbs, your body breaks down the food into glucose (or sugar), which then heads into your bloodstream. The blood sugar levels in your bloodstream rise. Your pancreas is supposed to provide a hit of the hormone insulin to help your body’s cells absorb the sugar, which they’ll use for energy or store.

But people with type 2 diabetes need some help because their bodies are resistant to insulin or don’t produce enough insulin naturally. Without insulin, the sugar from carbs will stay in the bloodstream and won’t be absorbed by the body. This can lead to serious complications, which is why many people with diabetes need to inject insulin so their bodies function properly.

There are long-acting insulins, intermediate-acting insulins, short-acting insulins, and rapid-acting insulins. Many people take a rapid-acting insulin like Humalog (insulin lispro) before mealtime. Humalog is used to treat people with diabetes for the control of high blood sugar. This mealtime insulin works quickly to manage any “spikes” in blood sugar levels after they digest carbs from a meal. People with type 2 diabetes should calculate their dose of mealtime insulin based on the amount of carbs they plan to eat at a particular meal—this is called the insulin-to-carb ratio. Then they’ll inject their insulin about 15 minutes before or right after eating their meal. This helps them maintain better control over their blood sugar levels, which keeps them healthier long term.

It’s crucial people prescribed mealtime insulin commit to taking it with every meal. Without it, blood sugar levels won’t be fully managed, which can lead to uncontrolled diabetes and associated complications. Understanding how to count carbs will better equip you to stick with your mealtime insulin treatment.

How Carb Counting Works

Typically, carbs are measured in grams; one serving is considered to be 15 grams of carbs. Most people tend to take in 45 to 60 grams of carbs per meal, or about three or four carb servings. But everyone’s need for carbs varies, based on their size and activity levels. Your doctor or diabetes educator can help you set more specific carb goals for yourself.

So how do you know how many grams of carbohydrates are in a particular food? You’ll need to do your homework and start reading up on carbs in the foods you like to eat. Pay close attention to nutrition facts labels and serving sizes. A few examples of servings containing about 15 grams of carbs include:

  • 1/3 cup of pasta

  • 1 slice of bread

  • ½ cup of starchy vegetables, like mashed potatoes or peas

  • ¾ cup of dry cereal

Once you figure out how many carbs you’ll be eating, you’ll be able to adjust your mealtime insulin dose to meet your needs.

Getting Help With Counting

Does this sound like a lot of work? Don’t be daunted! You’ll figure out how to manage your carb intake and your mealtime insulin to meet your needs. Here are a few strategies to help:

  • Practice: Practice makes perfect. The more often you count carbs, the better you’ll get. As time passes, you’ll become more comfortable determining the amount of carbs you’ve consumed so you can calculate your mealtime insulin dose.

  • Develop a favorites list: You might also try making a list of favorite foods and memorizing their carbohydrate levels. You can rely on these tried-and-true favorites without having to always do careful calculations before every meal.

  • Keep a personal database: You don’t actually have to memorize the carbohydrates in every single thing you eat. But you do need to keep track of any carbs that you eat. If you look up the carb content of a particular food, keep track of it for future use in a spreadsheet or list. Detail the typical portion size and the carb count so you can easily refer to it. You can also download this information to your smartphone as a reference when cooking or dining away from home.

Counting carbs might sound like a hassle at first, but it’s well worth the effort. Accurately counting carbs helps you give yourself the appropriate dose of mealtime insulin to keep blood glucose levels stable. This helps you manage your diabetes and avoid diabetes-related complications like kidney disease, blindness, and blood vessel damage. And knowing how many carbs you eat can help you make healthier food choices and live an all-around healthier life!

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2018 Jul 6
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THIS CONTENT DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. This content is provided for informational purposes and reflects the opinions of the author. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of a qualified healthcare professional regarding your health. If you think you may have a medical emergency, contact your doctor immediately or call 911.
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  4. Tsai A. The Basics of Carb Counting. Diabetes Forecast. May 2015. http://www.diabetesforecast.org/2015/may-jun/the-basics-of-carb-counting.html