Why Do Dietitians Encourage Carbohydrate Counting versus Just Portion Control




Many of you may not know this but I currently work as a Nutrition Care Manager, Registered Dietitian, and Food-service Manager at a Continuing Care Retirement Community. This versatile position helps me grow and learn in regards to management of employees, food-service, and clinical nutrition issues. I NEVER have a dull day… that is a fact. Working with the long-term care population is a challenge in many aspects especially due to the fact that many people in this population are very set in their ways which are normally not the most up to date ways (I am saying this in the kindest way possible). One of the most common nutrition issues stems from the residents with diabetes who do not know how to carbohydrate count and they do not see the benefit in carbohydrate counting. The majority of the population believe that simple portion control and balanced meals are all they have to do to prevent elevated blood sugars and manage their diabetes, which I am sure is what they were taught when they were first diagnosed. For this reason I want to provide a list of the benefits of carbohydrate counting versus other methods of managing blood sugars.

  1. Carbohydrate counting helps people learn about correct portion sizes due to the requirement to have to read nutrition labels to establish the amount of grams of Carbohydrate per serving.  Portion control alone won’t keep your blood sugars in check unless you actually know what an appropriate serving size is.

    *current recommendations: 60-90 grams of Carbohydrate per meal time (also depending on the age, sex, height, gender, and activity level as well as other factors – discuss with a dietitian for exact recommendations). A serving size of carbohydrate is considered a 15 g amount of carbohydrate which means an RD would recommend that you consume a balanced meal of 4-6 servings of carbohydrate.

  2. Not all starches are created equal. A 1/2 cup of sweet potatoes equals 26 g of CHO and a 1/2 cup of black beans equals 18 g of CHO. 8 grams of CHO shouldn’t be considered a minimal difference but should make you question your carbohydrate consistency throughout the day when you only rely on portion control.

    Don’t get me started on when butter and sugar are added to things like sweet potato casserole or mashed potatoes and gravy… That will also affect the caloric and carbohydrate content. A 1/2 cup of gravy (which unfortunately is how much gravy the average American normally uses to top their mashed potatoes) will add another 6-8 g of CHO.

3.  Third and finally, most people do not know what foods contain carbohydrates. This is      my biggest issue with the recommendation to just “follow a healthy diet and balance         your meals.” How do you know how to balance your meal appropriately if you don’t         know what foods are considered a carbohydrate?

To prove my point, most people do not know that 1/2 cup of beets contains 8 g of carbohydrate as well as 1/2 cup of corn containing 11 g of carbohydrate. Dairy, Fruit, and Starchy Vegetables are all considered carbohydrate sources and “Sugar” should not be the only thing avoided and focused on.

For more tips and tricks to how to manage your blood sugars more accurately and become more knowledgeable about what you are putting in your body contact me!


Cinthia Scott, Registered Dietitian, Licensed Dietitian, Certified Nutrition Support Clinician 



Leave a Reply