Carbohydrates, found in many of the foods we eat, are digested and turn into glucose, which is an important fuel for our bodies. Insulin acts like a key to unlock cells so that glucose can move from the bloodstream into the cells where it is used as fuel.

Carbohydrate counting is a useful tool for people who have diabetes. Balancing carbohydrates and insulin helps keep your blood sugars in a healthy range. Carbohydrates in foods are measured in units called grams.

Carbohydrate Foods

The following foods contain carbohydrates:

  • Breads, tortillas, crackers, bagels and rolls
  • Cereals, grains, pasta and rice
  • Fruit and juices
  • Legumes such as black beans, kidney beans and pinto beans
  • Lentils and split peas
  • Milk and yogurt (but not cheese)
  • Starchy vegetables such as corn, peas, potatoes, winter squash and yams

Non-starchy vegetables such as broccoli and carrots have smaller amounts of carbohydrates.

Sweets — such as candies, cookies, honey, pastries, sodas, sugar and syrups — are often concentrated sources of carbohydrates.

Counting Carbohydrates In Food

  • Read food labels for serving size and grams of carbohydrates
  • Refer to carbohydrate counting lists
  • Refer to nutrition information in restaurants and on websites
  • Use online carbohydrate counting resources and food composition books

Reading Food Labels

The two most important pieces of information for the carbohydrate controlled diet is the serving size and the grams of total carbohydrates. You can find this information for a food by reading the food label, which lists the serving size, servings per container, total grams of carbohydrates and much more.


Reviewed by health care specialists at UCSF Medical Center.

This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended to replace the advice of your doctor or health care provider. We encourage you to discuss with your doctor any questions or concerns you may have.

Related Information

UCSF Clinics & Centers

Diabetes Clinic at Mount Zion
2200 Post St., Suite C-418
San Francisco, CA 94115
Phone: (415) 885–3868
Fax: (415) 885–7724

Diabetes Clinic at Parnassus
400 Parnassus Ave., Suite A-550
San Francisco, CA 94143
Phone: (415) 353–2350
Fax: (415) 353–2337

Diabetes Teaching Center
400 Parnassus Ave., Suite A-550
San Francisco, CA 94143
Phone: (415) 353–2266
Fax: (415) 353–2337

Condition Information