How Many Carbs Should a Person with T2D Eat?

Reprinted with permission from

One of the most important aspects of managing type 2 diabetes is nutrition, since the foods you eat have the ability to regulate your blood sugar levels. Carbohydrate intake is crucial in managing diabetes, and determining the right amount for someone with type 2 diabetes involves careful consideration. There’s no formula or blanket recommendation for carb intake, however with the proper guidance and resources, you’ll be able to figure out what the right amount of carbohydrates is for you.

Understanding How Carbs Impact Blood Sugar

When we consume foods that contain carbohydrates such as bread, pasta, fruits, or sweets, our bodies break these down into glucose during digestion. Glucose is a type of sugar that serves as the primary source of energy for our cells. Once carbohydrates are converted into glucose, they enter the bloodstream causing a rise in blood sugar levels. This increase triggers the release of insulin, a hormone produced by the pancreas. Insulin plays a vital role in regulating blood sugar levels by helping our cells absorb glucose from the bloodstream. It acts as a key, allowing glucose to enter the cells to be used for energy.

The type and amount of carbohydrates you eat will greatly impact blood sugar levels. Simple carbohydrates, like those found in sugary foods and refined grains, are quickly broken down into glucose, leading to a rapid spike in blood sugar. This sudden surge can lead to a rapid release of insulin to regulate your glucose levels. This can also result in a subsequent drop in blood sugar, leaving you tired and hungry, and potentially leading to cravings for more quick sources of energy.

On the other hand, complex carbohydrates, such as those found in whole grains, legumes, and vegetables, take longer to digest and are released gradually into the bloodstream. This slower release helps to promote glucose stability, preventing sharp spikes and crashes.

It’s important to be aware of the type and amount of carbohydrates if you have type 2 diabetes. Balancing carbohydrate intake with other macronutrients, such as proteins and fats, will help to regulate blood sugar and provide a sustained release of energy throughout the day.

How Fat and Protein Impact Blood Sugar

When it comes to blood sugar levels, carbohydrates have the biggest impact compared to proteins and fats. Carbohydrates are broken down into sugar (glucose) in our bodies, which quickly enters the bloodstream and raises blood sugar levels. Proteins and fats, however, don’t have a direct effect on blood sugar levels like carbohydrates do.

When we eat protein, it gets broken down into smaller units called amino acids. Some of these amino acids can be converted into glucose if needed, but this process is not significant enough to cause a major increase in blood sugar levels. Fats, on the other hand, have very little impact on blood sugar levels. They are broken down into fatty acids and are used by the body for energy. This process does not cause any significant changes in blood sugar levels.

To manage blood sugar levels, it’s important to pay attention to the amount and type of carbohydrates you consume, as they have the biggest effect on blood sugar. Proteins and fats have minimal direct impact on blood sugar, but they still play important roles in our overall health. It’s good to include a balance of protein and healthy fats in our diet, as they can help us feel full and satisfied after meals.

Putting It All Together: The MyPlate Method

One of our favorite tools for putting together balanced meals is the MyPlate method, a visual representation to promote healthy eating and balanced meals. The MyPlate breaks down 50% of our plate with vegetables, encouraging individuals to choose leafy greens, cruciferous vegetables, non-starchy vegetables, and others. The goal is to make vegetables fill half of the plate. The remaining half gets divided into 25% carbohydrates and 25% proteins. This approach serves as a visual reminder to create well-balanced meals that are planned around plant foods.

Determining the Ideal Carb Intake

The ideal carbohydrate intake for people with type 2 diabetes can vary depending on several factors, including age, activity level, overall health, and individual response to carbohydrates. It is crucial to work closely with a healthcare professional, such as a registered dietitian or a certified diabetes educator, to develop a personalized approach tailored to specific needs.

Meal Timing with Carbs

Meal timing is another important aspect of diabetes management. Spacing out  your carbohydrate consumption throughout the day and avoiding large, carbohydrate-heavy meals can prevent blood sugar spikes. This can be achieved by dividing the total carbohydrate intake evenly across meals and snacks. Instead of having most of your carbs during one particular meal or snack time, you can break it up and have smaller portions throughout the day for more stable balance.

We recommend eating at least three complete meals per day (with two to three food groups) and then adding in snacks if you’re still hungry in between meals. Aim to keep carb portions somewhat consistent for each meal and snack, and make sure you have at least 2 servings of carbohydrates (30 grams) for your heartier meals.

Personalized Approach and Regular Monitoring

People with type 2 diabetes should understand that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to carbohydrate intake. Regular monitoring of blood glucose levels before and after meals, along with ongoing communication with your dietitian will help fine-tune the carbohydrate amounts that are right for you. Adjustments may be necessary based on how your body responds.

Determining how many carbs someone with type 2 diabetes should eat per day requires careful consideration of various factors. While there is no fixed number that applies universally, a personalized approach that takes into account individual factors and medical history is crucial. Monitoring blood sugar levels, considering the glycemic impact of foods, and eating a well-balanced diet will help with managing diabetes effectively and decreasing risks.

If you’re looking to improve your health and learn more about diabetes prevention and prediabetes self care, visit Diabetes Digital for 1 on 1 nutrition counseling with registered dietitian nutritionists.


Additional Resources:

Fiber: Carbs with Extra Benefits!

Understanding Carbs and Their Effect on Blood Sugar

  1. Avatar

    Could you please work with the manufacturers to allow seniors on Medicare to use their coupons. I really don’t know how anyone on Medicare can afford these life changing drugs. I would love to be able to give this one a try. I am maxed out on Metformin er.

    • Avatar

      We will share your comment…and you might want to reach out to one or more of the diabetes advocacy organizations too. It’s an important issue for sure.

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