Counting carbohydrate in the foods you eat can help you control your blood glucose levels and prevent or delay long-term complications of diabetes. This is because the carbohydrate in food raises your blood glucose more than any other nutrient.

In Jamaica, foods are placed into six groups namely Staples, Legumes, Foods from Animals, Fruits, Vegetables and Fats/Oils. The nutrient carbohydrates are found mainly in staples, legumes, fruits and vegetables (yellow starchy).  Milk is the only foods from animals which contains carbohydrate, an energy source for every day activities. It is important for people with diabetes to eat foods that have carbohydrate.

The balance between the amount of carbohydrate in food and insulin determines how much your blood glucose levels go up after meals. This means you need to know which foods have carbohydrate, the average serving sizes and how many carbohydrate servings to eat.

Some Carbohydrate Containing Foods

  • Staples: Breads, crackers, cereal, pasta, rice, and grains

Legumes: peas, beans, nuts, seeds

Fruits: orange. ripe banana, juneplum, apple, juices

Vegetables (yellow starchy):  carrot, pumpkin, stringbeans

Foods from animals: milk

Your meal plan tells you how many carbohydrate servings to eat at each meal.

1 carbohydrate serving = 1 serving staple or 1 serving fruit or 2 servings milk = 15g carbohydrate

Foods that contains sugars e.g. cakes, cookies, candies are counted as carbohydrate servings. These foods may not contribute any vitamins or minerals to the diet.

Carbohydrate Servings

  • Carbohydrate is measured in grams (g).
  • One carbohydrate serving = 15g carbohydrate.
  • The Nutrition Facts panel on food labels also tells you how much carbohydrate is in one serving of the food.

Eat the Same Number of Carbohydrate Servings at Each Meal

  • You and your Dietitian or Nutritionist will decide how many carbohydrate servings you should eat at each meal.
  • By checking your blood glucose levels, you can tell when and where changes are needed. If your blood glucose levels are too high, you may need to do one or more of the following:
    • Eat fewer carbohydrates servings.
    • Be more physically active.
    • Work with your health care team to add or make changes in diabetes medications.

Using Food Lables

The Nutrition facts panel of food labels is the preferred source of carbohydrate information. Food lists and reference books are also available.

Apple Juice, Unsweetened

Serving Size: 8 fluid oz.Servings per container: 3
Amount per servingsCalories 120Calories from Fat 0
Total Fat 0g
Saturated fat 0g
Cholesterol 0 mg
Sodium 0 mg
Total Carbohydrate 30g
Sugars 30g
Protein 0g
Ingredients: Apple juice from concentrate and water

The apple juice stated above contains 30 grams of carbohydrate = 2 exchanges.

Steps to Using a Food Label

  1. Look first at the serving size. Is this the serving size you will be eating? How many servings are in the container?
  2. Look at the total g carbohydrate. Ignore the sugars because they are included in the total g carbohydrate.
  3. Divide the total g carbohydrate by 15 for the number of carbohydrate servings.
  4. Ask your Dietitian or Nutritionist how you should use other label information.

Calculating Exchanges from food labels

  1. Check the serving size
  2. Find the total carbohydrate
  3. Divide the total carbohydrate by 15
  4. Ask your Dietitian or Nutritionist how to interpret the information stated on the label


If total carbohydrate is 19-26 grams this would = to approximately 1 ½ exchanges

If total carbohydrate is 27-33 grams this would = approximately 2 exchanges

Calculating carbohydrate per single unit when serving size is greater than one:

(One carbohydrate serving = 15 g carbohydrate)


  • Product: Cookies
  • Serving Size: 3 cookies
  • Total Carbohydrate: 23 grams
  1. Divide the total carbohydrate by serving size to determine grams of carbohydrate per unit. Grams carbohydrate per unit: 23 / 3 =7.6 grams
  2. Divide carbohydrate serving (15 grams) by the grams carbohydrate per unit.

Grams carbohydrate per single unit = 15/ 7.6=1.97 or 2 cookies

Interpretation: 2 cookies contain 15 grams carbohydrate

Sweets and Desserts

  • One carbohydrate serving:
  • ¼ cup sherbet
  • 2 small cookies
  • 1 tablespoon syrup, jam, jelly, table sugar, honey
  • ½ cup ice cream

Free Foods

These foods contain 0-5 grams of carbohydrate and less than 20 calories per serving.

  • 1 Tablespoon ketchup
  • 1 Tbsp fat-free cream cheese,
  • Mayonnaise, salad dressing
  • Sugar-free gelatin, gum
  • Sugar substitutes
  • Spices/herbs, such as garlic
  • Cinnamon, basil
  • Lemon juice
  • Diet soft drinks
  • Water

Foods containing less than 7 grams of carbohydrate do not require coverage with insulin. To learn more about advanced carbohydrate counting consult a Dietitian or Nutritionist.

(This article was adopted from the American Diabetes Association)

Author: Deon M. Bent RD

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