Saturday, January 14, 2012

It's The Final Countdown (Or Carbs Count!)

Counting carbohydrates.  Many of us dealing with type 1 diabetes have to do it.  It is critical in dispensing the proper ratio of insulin to food when your are not using a structured food exchange program.

Over the years, I have collected an assortment of tried and true methods of counting carbohydrates. 

My favorite way to count carbs is through the use of measuring cups.  It is my go-to resource for recipes, snacks, and treats.  In our family if someone wants a bowl of cereal, then they simply measure out the amount they want (mostly at this age, it is one cup servings), then review the amount of carbohydrates on the box and calculate the number of carbohydrates.  Adding milk?  Then, pour a cup of milk into the cup and add to the cereal bowl.  Easy-peasy! 

Notice the cute Disney World measuring cups?  On our last vacation, this is what I picked as my souvenir from the trip.  It has made me happy every day since.  Who says measuring cups can't be cute?

Next up, is our food scale.  We actually have a few of these types of scales floating around the house.  This particular brand was provided to us in exchange for participating in a type 1 diabetes research study for food and nutrition.  At one point, this was our go-to item for measuring food and counting carbs.  As our children have gotten older, we find for our family that part of good control is teaching them ways to manage their own care.  This is especially true as the girls are away from home the majority of the week in school and extra-curricular activities. 

I have many friends that continue to use this method as they find it to be most accurate for their families.  Recently asking why one friend perferred this method, she answered that it became very clear to her that a cup of strawberries did not provide enough information.  Were the strawberries diced?  How much air was in the cup and were the stems on or off?  Having a food scale helped to her eliminate those questions which were especially important in dosing a insulin-sensitive toddler. 

If you haven't picked up a copy, I highly recommend The Calorie King Fat and Carbohydrate Counting Guide.  By far, this is our favorite reference book for identifying carbohydrates in foods while on the go.  This is not just for fast food either.  The guide is a comprehensive resource for virtually all foods.  I keep one in my purse, one in the pantry, one in the car and the kids have them in their classroom diabetes supply boxes.  Having a scale or measuring cups in the classroom or on sleepovers is a bit tedious, but the book makes it easy to help figure what "Suzie's birthday treat" is.

Of course, there is always the option of looking at labels.  Quite a bit of our crackers, breads, granola bars, and of course cereal is much easier because it simply has a label.  After years of reading these, each of us has memorized that each Ritz cracker has 2 grams of carbohydrates (we round down unless eating the full serving).  But one word of caution, switching brands often means switching carbs.  Not all crackers are created equal. 

Here are a few other tips for counting carbs and not losing your mind in the process.

1.)  If trying out a new recipe, be sure to write out the carbs right on the recipe card or inside the recipe book.  This will save you time in re-calculating if your family decides that your new recipe is the best ever! In addition, consider typing a list of all of your favorite foods and hanging it somewhere that is easy to refer too.  When we needed 15 gram carbohydrates or less snacks, I wrote up a list of everything that was free or low carb AND things that my kids would eat.  It helped so much.   

2.)  Purchase beverage glasses in 8 ounce size.  Ikea makes a great set of colorful plastic cups, bowls and plates.  The cups hold one 8 oz glass of milk and the bowls hold exactly 1 cup of cereal.  That makes our morning time much more enjoyable. 

3.)  If you are going to the movie theater any time soon, considering taking along the Ikea plastic bowl or a brown paper bag that you can mark with a fill-too line which is pre-measured.  You can dispose of the bag when the movie is over or if you brought along the bowl, you can just dust it off and put it into your purse.

4.)  After grocery shopping, pull out your trusty Sharpe marker and write all of the carb counts on the items.  Applesauce and yogurt are two items that do not always have carbs printed on the individual container.   Consider taking time to baggie individual servings of crackers, raisins, potato chips, carrots, strawberries, grapes, etc.,  and using your marker to identify the amount of carbs for each bag.  Your kids will love being empowered to know how many carbs they are eating and you will be thankful for the time savings down the road. 

5.)  Get your kids cooking!  Part of learning to count carbs is letting them touch the food, do the measuring and the mathematics.  One very nice part of having to count carbs is that our children with type 1 diabetes tend to excel at math.  Maybe it is coincidence, but I tend to think it is all of that adding, subtracting, multiplying and even 'guess'estimating!

Happy Carbing!

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