ESTIMATING CARBOHYDRATE COUNTS FOR FOODS WITHOUT LABELS

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There are several varieties of food that do not come with a label such as:

  • fresh produce;
  • breads;
  • legumes; and 
  • grains;

These foods are also combined with other food groups or mixed into dishes instead of being eaten separately which makes it hard to count accurate carbohydrates.   It is important to be able to make a good estimate and count of carbs at home and when you are dining out.  Foods have been separated into lists that are called ‘Exchange Lists’.  The main idea is that foods are separated according to their macro nutrient composition as follows:

  1. fats
  2. carbohydrates
  3. protein

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The result is that you are able to pick any item from the exchange list and have approximately the same amount of carbs, fats, proteins, calories,  or fats as any of the items in the same lists.  

There are six exchange lists:

  1. Starches;
  2. Fruits;
  3. Milk;
  4. Non-starchy vegetables;
  5. Meats and proteins; and 
  6. Fats.

The groups with the highest carbohydrates are starch, fruit, and milk lists.  The non-starchy group have carbs but they are in smaller amounts.  Protein and fat groups do not contain carbs or  have very little amounts.  The foods in each exchange lists are sorted according to  portion size.   This allows for approximately the same amount of carbs, fats, proteins, and calories per serving.potatonutritionlabel

The best way to promote healthy eating and to keep your blood glucose levels stable, is to choose the best foods from the lists.  Whole wheat grains are better than white refined grains and you should limit your fruit intake to one serving at a time.  Choosing non starchy and lean protein are the best sources of healthy eating as well as opting for unsaturated fats.

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THE STARCH LIST

This list has some staple foods that are very high in carbohydrates  The groups that contain high carbs are:

  • breads;
  • bagels;
  • tortillas;
  • biscuits;
  • oats;
  • crackers;
  • cereals;
  • noodles;
  • rice;
  • quinoa;
  • millet; and 
  • barley.

High carb vegetables include|:

  • potatoes;
  • corn;
  • peas;
  • yams;
  • winter squash; and
  • legumes (dried bean family).

Some example of carb counting include:

1 cup of oatmeal contains 30 grams of carbs;

1/2 cup of oatmeal contains 15 grams of carbs;

1 cup of rice contains 45 grams of carbs; and

1 whole bagel contains 60 grams of carbs.

The following examples provides information based on 15 grams of carbs after cooking, 3 grams of protein, little or no fat, and 80 calories.  I am including the 6 categories in tables for easier understanding and calculation.

STARCH LIST – EXAMPLES = 15 GRAMS OF CARBS
FOOD PORTION SIZE
BAGEL, LARGE 1/4
BREAD, WHEAT OR WHITE 1 SLICE
LEGUMES 1/2 CUP COOKED
OATMEAL ½ CUP COOKED
PASTA, SPAGHETTI, NOODLES 1/3 CUP COOKED
POTATO ½ CUP COOKED
TORTILLA-6 INCH FLOUR OR CORN 1

 

FRUIT LIST – EXAMPLES = 15 GRAMS OF CARBS
FOOD PORTION SIZE
APPLE, SMALL 1
BANANA, AVERAGE ½
BLACKBERRIES, BLUEBERRIES ¾ CUP
CANTALOUPE, HONEYDEW MELON 1 CUP CUBED
GRAPEFRUIT, LARGE ½
GRAPES, SMALL 17
ORANGE, SMALL 1
PEACH, MEDIUM 1

 

MILK LIST – EXAMPLES = 12- 15 GRAMS OF CARBS
FOOD PORTION SIZE
MILK: NONFAT, 1%, 2%, WHOLE 1 CUP
EVAPORATED MILK ½
YOGURT, PLAIN 2/3 CUP
NON STARCHY LIST – VEGETABLE LIST = 5 GRAMS CARBS
ASPARAGUS GREENS (COLLARD, KALE)
BAMBOO SHOOTS MUSHROOMS
BEETS OKRA
BROCCOLI ONIONS
BRUSSEL SPROUTS PEA PODS
CABBAGE PEPPERS (ALL)
CARROTS SPINACH
CAULIFLOWER SPROUTS
CELERY TOMATOES
EGGPLANT ZUCCHINI

  

Slim Meal Replacement

MEAT AND PROTEIN LIST – (NO CARBS)
LEAN MEDIUM FAT HIGH FAT
FISH AND SHELL FISH FRIED FISH BACON, SAUSAGE
SKINLESS POULTRY EGGS HOT DOGS, RIBS
PORK TENDERLOIN MOZZARELLA CHEESE BOLOGNA, SALAMI
SIRLOIN STEAK CORNED BEEF CHEESE

 Notes:  

  1. The fat list has both animal based and plant based fats.
  2. The meat and protein list includes all animal protein sources: beef, chicken, fish lamb, pork, seafood, and turkey.  
  3. Cheese has no carbs but is high in protein and fat.
  4. Eggs and tofu are likewise protein foods and included there.
  5. Fat and calories vary depending on the selections, but each ounce of meat or cheese provides about 7 grams of protein.  
  6. Non starchy vegetables are low in carbs.  Each item on the list has about 5 grams of carbs, 2 grams of protein, 0 grams of fat, and 25 calories.
  7. The milk list has variances in fat and calories depending on the selection, but provides about 8 grams of proteins.

There are other types of food that are not as simple to calculate such as tamales, pot stickers, spring rolls, dim sum, ravioli, pizza, lasagna, and other mixed dishes, appetizers, or ethnic foods.  You need to be able to read labels in your local grocery store by looking through the aisles and finding similar items as listed and then checking the food labels.  Check for size and carb count and write it down.  You should keep a list of your carb counting estimations and organize them or you can take images of the labels and then create a document detailing the information.  When looking at canned goods, dry goods, or condiments you will be surprised at the amounts of carbs in them.  Make notes or take a picture to document including the serving size.  

Blood Sugar Capsules

In an upcoming article I will continue to explain and give examples of calculating carbs for recipes and expand on carbs in ethnic foods.  I will include a how to on creating a carb cheat sheet to better assist you in successfully counting carbs.