How many carbs can I eat in a meal? How many carbs can I eat in a day? The answer: there’s not a magic number that fits everyone. If you are in the early days of a diabetes diagnosis and trying to figure it all out, you may have heard the advice, “eat to your meter.”
It sounds so simple. But what does that mean???
People with diabetes will each have their own degree of a healthy, working pancreas which produces insulin. Early in a diagnosis timeline, your pancreas may still be producing lots of insulin on its own. As years go by, the degree of natural insulin produced will decline, but the rate of this decline is highly variable from one person to another.
The basis of eating to your meter is to help you determine how YOUR body processes carbs. By knowing this, you’ll be able to make better decisions about food. If a certain type of fruit makes your blood sugar spike, that will be something to avoid. If a small amount of brown rice keeps your blood sugar stable, but a whole cup sends it through the roof, that’s news you can use. But wait a minute. Can’t I just find a chart that tells me the general way food will affect blood sugar (glycemic load) then follow that? We don’t recommend it. The truth is that glycemic load charts aren’t all that accurate and they don’t give you information about YOU.
Okay, I’m convinced. How do I do it?
Step 1: Record your blood sugar before a meal.
Step 2: Eat and record your food. Try to be accurate on portion size. Note the time.
Step 3: Wait 2 hours and check your blood sugar again.
Step 4: Subtract the 2-hour value from the pre-meal value to determine how much a certain food makes your blood sugar rise.
Step 5: Record this on your logsheet.
Step 6: Make a list of foods that are on your “green light” list and build your meals around this list.
What’s the goal?
Ideally, you want your glucose level to return to normal at the 2 hour mark. If it doesn’t, adjustments will need to be made.
How do I use the results?
If your blood sugar was high at 2-hours, you have some options on what to do with that information:
— Eliminate that food from your diet
— Reduce the portion size
— Add protein or fat to your meal to help control the glucose spike. (When protein or fat are added to carbs, the carbs are absorbed more slowly.)
— Add some physical activity to use up the carbs
Knowing this information will help you become more confident in food selection and know how many carbs to eat at a meal. Because every person with diabetes is affected uniquely by food, you will get to know your limits and allowances better. You can also implement these steps if you want to know how exercise affects blood sugar levels.
What’s a normal blood sugar? It depends on who you ask. Your healthcare team may have given you target numbers. If they didn’t, then we recommend aiming for <110 pre-meal and <140 post-meal. The American Diabetes Association recommendations are more generous, especially post-meal (<180), but that’s not low enough to prevent future complications. The closer to non-diabetic glucose numbers you can be, the lower risk of heart disease and nerve damage you’ll experience.
Side note: if you’re not even convinced that glucose checking is important at all, check out this article for more information.
Get started eating to your diabetic meter and focusing in on those foods that your body processes well. We have created a separate logsheet just for the process of learning to eat to your meter. Get access to it here.
Let us know in the comments if this strategy has been successful for you, or what trouble spots you’ve encountered.
Want some quick and easy diabetes-friendly snacks?
With this list, you won't have to wonder what to eat in between meals!
Download it to your phone or tablet and keep it handy, or print it off and keep it by your fridge.