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How To Count Your Carbs

Nina Ghamrawi, MS, RD, CDE
April 20, 2023
April 26, 2023

Interesting in learning how to count carbs? Watch the video below, or keep reading.

Why Count Carbs?

Counting carbohydrates can be helpful for people who need to manage their carbohydrate intake for a variety of reasons, including:

  • Diabetes management: For people with diabetes, monitoring carbohydrate intake can help to manage blood sugar levels and prevent high or low blood sugar episodes.
  • Weight management: Carbohydrates are a major source of energy for the body, and controlling carbohydrate intake can help with weight loss or maintenance.
  • Sports performance: Athletes may need to pay attention to their carbohydrate intake to ensure that they have enough energy to perform at their best.
  • Other health concerns: Some people may need to control their carbohydrate intake for other health reasons, such as to manage kidney disease or to reduce their risk of heart disease.

Do you know how many grams of carbohydrates are in this dish of sautéed cauliflower with peppers and onions?

How Much Carbs Do You Need?

As a general guideline, the recommended daily intake of carbohydrates for adults is 45-65% of total calories. For a person following a

  • 2,000 calorie diet, you need about 225-325 grams of carbohydrates per day
  • 1,500 calorie diet, you need about 165-240 grams of carbohydrates per day

However, it's important to note that these are just general guidelines and may not be appropriate for everyone. The amount of carbohydrates a person needs depends on a variety of factors, including their age, sex, weight, height, physical activity level, and any specific health concerns. So YOUR actual carbohydrate needs may be higher or lower depending on your unique circumstances.

Work with your registered dietitian to determine the appropriate carbohydrate intake for you. They can take into account your specific needs and goals and help you create a meal plan that meets your needs.

What Foods Contain Carbs

Carbohydrates are found in a variety of foods, including:

  • Grains: bread, rice, pasta, cereal, oats, quinoa, etc.
  • Starchy vegetables: potatoes, sweet potatoes, corn, peas, etc.
  • Legumes: beans, lentils, chickpeas, etc.
  • Fruits: apples, bananas, berries, oranges, etc.
  • Milk and yogurt: whole milk, reduced-fat milk, skim milk, yogurt, etc.
  • Snacks: cookies, crackers, chips, pretzels, etc.
  • Sweets: cakes, candies, ice cream, etc.

While some foods contain carbohydrates, like vegetables and legumes, they also provide other important nutrients like fiber, vitamins, and minerals. So choose a variety of foods from all food groups (just limit sweets and snacks, of course) to ensure that you are getting the nutrients you need.

Learn Portion Sizes: Use Labels And Exchange Lists!

Reading Nutrition Labels:

To find the amount of carbohydrates in a food, you can refer to the nutrition label on the package. The label will list the total number of carbohydrates in grams (g) per serving size. It may also list the amount of fiber and sugars, which are types of carbohydrates. Something like this:

Total Carbohydrates: 40g
Dietary Fiber: 4g
Sugars: 8g

The total carbohydrates listed on the label include both complex carbohydrates (such as starches and fiber) and simple carbohydrates (such as sugars). The dietary fiber and sugars listed on the label are subcategories of the total carbohydrates.

You can also find information about the carbohydrate content of a food by looking up the food in a nutrition database or app. These resources may provide additional information about the types and amounts of carbohydrates in the food, as well as other nutrients.

When it Doesn’t Have A Label, Use Carbohydrate Exchange List System

The exchange list system is a system for categorizing foods based on their nutrient content. The carbohydrate exchange list includes a variety of foods that are high in carbohydrates, including breads, cereals, grains, pasta, rice, fruit, vegetables, dairy products, and sweets. The system provides a standard portion size for each food that equates to about 15g carbohydrates. So all you need to remember is the portion size, and each item will be 15 grams. Much easier to count without looking up, right? The hard part is memorizing it.

Here are some foods on the carbohydrate exchange list:


  • 1 slice of bread
  • 1 small biscuit
  • 1 small muffin


  • 1/2 cup of dry cereal
  • 1 cup of cold cereal
  • 1/2 cup of cooked oatmeal


  • 1/2 cup of cooked rice, pasta, or other grain


  • 1 small apple
  • 1/2 cup of chopped fruit
  • 1/4 cup of dried fruit


  • 1/2 cup of cooked or raw vegetables
  • 1 cup of raw leafy vegetables

Dairy products:

  • 1 cup of milk
  • 1/2 cup of ice cream
  • 1/2 cup of yogurt


  • 1 tablespoon of sugar
  • 1 small cookie
  • 1/2 ounce of hard candy

It's important to note that the exchange list system is just one tool that can be used to manage carbohydrate intake. It is not suitable for everyone, and it is important to work with a healthcare provider or registered dietitian to determine the most appropriate meal planning method for you.

Using Nutrition Apps:

There are many nutrition apps available that can help you track your carbohydrate intake and manage your diet. Here are a few steps you can follow to use a nutrition app to count carbohydrates:

  1. Choose a nutrition app: There are many nutrition apps to choose from, so take some time to research and find one that meets your needs and preferences. Consider the app's features, ease of use, and cost.
  2. Set up your profile: Most nutrition apps will ask you to create a profile that includes information about your age, sex, weight, height, and physical activity level. This will help the app calculate needs.
  3. Enter your daily food intake: To track your carbohydrate intake, you will need to enter the foods you eat into the app.
  4. Track your carbohydrate intake: As you enter your foods into the app, it will automatically track the amount of carbohydrates you are consuming. Most apps will also allow you to set specific carbohydrate goals and will provide feedback on whether you are meeting those goals.

It's important to note that nutrition apps can be a helpful tool for tracking your carbohydrate intake, but they are not a substitute for professional medical advice. If you have specific health concerns or needs, work with a healthcare provider or registered dietitian to determine the most appropriate approach for you.

Overall, once your healthcare provider or Dietitian gives you some guidance on how many grams of carbohydrates you need in a day, you can begin adding up the carbohydrates in your meals and snacks to get to that quota, and even use a nutrition app, exchange list system, or simple food labels to estimate the amount of carbohydrates you're taking in.

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