One of the most common questions I get asked as a dietitian working with people who have diabetes is “how many carbs should I be eating?” My answer isn’t a set range of carbs for everyone. Other factors need to be considered including glycemic control, usual diet intake, body weight and goals for weight, physical activity, and personal preferences. Goals for carbohydrates need to be individualized.

The American Diabetes Association (ADA) emphasizes this as well. ADA states that there is not an ideal amount of carbohydrates for all people with diabetes. ADA encourages emphasis on the type of carbs and blood glucose response to carbs. There isn’t a carb goal that works for everyone with diabetes because people respond to carbohydrates in different ways, and not all carbs have the same effect on blood glucose.

Focusing on the type of carbohydrate and the amount is important. For people with diabetes, reducing carbohydrates is an effective way to help control glucose. So, let’s talk carb numbers:

  • 300 grams: On the Nutrition Facts panel, the percent Daily Value (DV) is based on 300 grams of carb per day. For example, 37 grams of total carbohydrates is 12% DV. It’s important to remember that we are talking about grams of carb not the percent DV. The percent DV is not a recommended amount of carbs for people with diabetes.
  • 250 grams: The typical American diet is more than 250 grams of carb per day. This amount is too high for most people with diabetes. A higher carb intake makes controlling glucose and losing weight more of a challenge.
  • 130 grams: The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for carbs is 130 grams per day. This number is based on the amount of carbohydrate that is required to provide the brain with adequate glucose. While there is no standard definition of a low-carb diet, less than 130 grams per day is often considered low carb by medical professionals because it’s below the RDA. However, if you ask 5 people what a low-carb diet is, you will get 5 different answers. Research does show that following a low-carb diet can help with weight loss and glycemic control.
  • 50 grams: Less than 50 grams of carb per day is typically considered a very low-carb diet. This may improve glycemic control and cause weight loss, but is not recommended as a healthy long-term diet. At this low level of carb intake, it’s hard to have diet variety and maintain adequate fiber in your diet.

As you can see, there is a big range in what could be recommended for carb goals. Remember your carb goals are going to be different than your friend who has diabetes. Not everyone with diabetes needs to be counting carbohydrates, but it is good to have awareness of your carb intake. If you aren’t counting carbs, try using the diabetes plate method for meal planning.

If you are planning to cut back on carbs and take a medication to lower blood glucose, talk with your healthcare team before making changes in your carb intake. Lowering carbs can cause a low blood glucose for some people. If you need help creating a lower carb meal plan, make an appointment with a Registered Dietitian.


by Christine McKinney, RD LDN CDE



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