3 Strategies for Better Carb Counting
The foundation of carbohydrate counting is knowing which foods contain carbs and what the appropriate portion sizes are. Once you have those down, try these three techniques, which make carb counting as accurate and easy as possible.
1. Make familiar meals.
They say variety is the spice of life, but the truth is, most people are creatures of habit when it comes to the foods they eat. “People think they eat this wide array of foods, but the reality is [they] really don’t,” says Hope Warshaw, MMSc, RD, CDE, author of Eat Out, Eat Well: The Guide to Eating Healthy in Any Restaurant. Use your consistency to your advantage by figuring out the carb counts in the foods and meals you prepare most often. If you eat those familiar foods 80 percent of the time—dinner at a restaurant or friend’s house may account for the other 20 percent—you won’t have to constantly calculate your meals’ carb counts. This can make you fairly accurate with your counting in general.
2. Create your food catalogue.
Warshaw recommends building your own personal carb count database. Start by writing down 50 to 100 items you eat regularly and the amount you usually consume. Weigh and measure your typical portion sizes to get the most precise information. Calculate the carb count for each item, either using a food label, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Nutrient Data Laboratory, a carb-counting book, or a smartphone app. Then you can create meals using these individual foods to determine how many carbs you are eating.
3. Make educated guesses
For mixed dishes that contain starches, such as a pasta casserole, you will be within range if you estimate 30 grams of carbohydrate per one cup, says Warshaw. If you frequent a restaurant that doesn’t post nutrition information online, look at a similar restaurant’s nutrition facts and base your calculations off the posted carb counts.
At the end of this year, new Food and Drug Administration requirements will require restaurant chains with 20 or more locations to provide nutrition information. Calorie counts must appear on menus, and a written handout listing total carbohydrate information must be made available upon request. Many restaurants already list this information online, which you can access from your computer or smartphone. If you’d like to see all this data in one place, check out CalorieKing, which lists nutrition information for most chain restaurants on its website, in its book, and on its app.