Diabetics face many challenges as they make efforts to manage blood glucose levels, meals, exercise, and general health. There is a constant consciousness that must take place for diabetics to stay healthy, which begins with keeping blood glucose, or blood sugar, under control. The good news is that maintaining proper glucose levels does not mean completely giving up favorite carbohydrate–containing foods.

Although it may not be necessary to completely give up carbohydrates, it is imperative to keep track of them. It is a common misperception that the body only receives energy from carbohydrates. Although carbohydrates are a great source of energy, they are not the only source–protein and fat also provide energy. Of the three, carbohydrates are the ones most easily turned into glucose, so they are what receive the most attention. However, not “counting carbs” is likely to result in extremely variable blood glucose levels that can lead to unpredictable moods and feelings of illness.

The more carbohydrates consumed, the higher the blood glucose level rises and the more insulin the body needs to process the resulting sugar. The benefit of consuming an appropriate amount of carbohydrates is that it helps keep glucose levels where they should be so that the body can function properly. Keeping blood glucose levels as close to normal as possible is also important in keeping the onset and progression of kidney, eye, and nerve damage at bay. Even diabetics who have not controlled their blood glucose in the past benefit from maintaining proper blood glucose levels.

For diabetics who want to keep track of their carbohydrate intake, a good place to start is taking a look at and analyzing their current diets. Generally speaking, 45 to 60 grams of carbohydrates per meal is acceptable. Of course, each person’s system is different. Counting carbohydrates is just one way to measure carbohydrate intake. The American Diabetes Association suggests the Plate Method–half of the plate should contain non–starchy vegetables, one quarter should contain lean protein, and the last quarter some additional carbohydrates. Some people prefer to follow a low–glycemic diet, which includes foods that do not spike blood glucose levels and are absorbed gradually by the body. Perhaps most important is distributing carbohydrate intake throughout the day to prevent sharp increases in and to maintain more even levels of blood glucose.

No matter the method chosen to monitor carbohydrate consumption, diabetics should educate themselves on the foods they eat. This can be done by reading food labels, keeping up to date with current literature, measuring and weighing food, and being aware of portion sizes.

As always, it is important for diabetics to talk with their doctors and dieticians before making changes to their diets.