- Brian Bender, PhD
Carbohydrate Counting: How to Track Carb Intake
Updated: Jun 5, 2021
This step-by-step guide on carbohydrate counting, part of our series on nutrition tracking, will teach you how to track your carb intake.
Carbohydrates are an important part of your diet, but they are notoriously controversial these days.
The USDA Guidelines recommend that you should eat 45 - 65% of your calories from carbohydrates.
But how do you track carb intake? Especially for home-cooked meals? And how do you track carb intake over time?
This step-by-step guide walks you through the process of carbohydrate counting. It essentially comes down to two primary questions: What is the quantity of carbs in the food you ate, and how much of it did you eat?
Step 1: Identify the individual food items in your meal.
If the food is pre-packaged, with a nutrition label, skip this step. But, if you prepared your meal from a recipe (like the ingredients below from a delicious recipe for Ikarian soufico), make note of each food item in the meal. Either on paper, or using a spreadsheet like Google Sheets or Microsoft Excel, list each item in the first column under the heading title like, _Ingredients _or Food Item.
Carbohydrate Counting – step 1 - Identify all food items in your meal
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Step 2: Calculate the quantity of each serving of foods with nutrition labels.
If the food is pre-packaged, look at the nutrition label. You will see “serving size,” and “servings per container.” First, convert units from the recipe to the same as the serving size units if they are different. Then, take how much (quantity) of each ingredient is present in the recipe and divide that by the serving size. Save that answer as the number of servings per recipe. You will multiply the amount of carbohydrates by this answer to determine how much of it is in the recipe. Although olive oil has zero grams of carbohydrates, the following image demonstrates how you would calculate this value for each pre-packaged item.
Carbohydrate Counting – step 2 - Calculate serving sizes using nutrition labels
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Step 3: Navigate to the USDA Food Search tool for fresh food item.
For fresh foods without a nutrition label, navigate to the USDA Food Search tool at https://ndb.nal.usda.gov/ndb/search/list.
Carbohydrate Counting – step 3 - Navigate to USDA Food Database Tool
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Step 4: Search for each food item.
Edit Select Source for Standard Reference, and enter the name of a food item into Enter one or more terms**_._**.
Find the food item description that best fits your food. For fresh fruits and vegetables, often the term includes “, raw.” Click on that food item.
Carbohydrate Counting – step 4 - Search for each food item
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Step 5: Search for and modify the quantity of the item to match your recipe.
Scroll horizontally in the table to find the quantity that best matches your recipe. To modify the column, enter a value into the serving size box and hit Enter.
Carbohydrate Counting – step 5 - Search and modify food item quantity
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Step 6: Identify and record the quantity of carbs.
Match the value in the column for your desired quantity with the row for total __carbohydrates.
Carbohydrate Counting – step 6 - Identify carb content
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Step 7: Record this value for each food item in the recipe.
Record this value for each food item in the recipe, and repeat this cycle for each food item.
Carbohydrate Counting – step 7 - Record the carb content for each food item
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Step 8: Sum the carbohydrate content of each value.
Sum each carb value in the column by adding together the values for each food item. In my example, the sum of all carbohydrates in this recipe is equal to 24.38 + 64.44 + 15.22 + 0 + 43.02 + 3.98 + 74.64 + 14.8 + 0 + 0 = 240.48 grams of carbohydrates.
Carbohydrate Counting – step 8 - Sum carb value for each food item
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Step 9: Convert total carbohydrate quantity into calories.
To convert carbs into calories, multiply the sum by 4. This product equals the total amount of calories in the recipe derived from carbohydrates. In this case, the total caloric content in this dish derived from carbs is roughly 961.92 calories.
Carbohydrate Counting – step 9 - Convert total grams of carbs into calories
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Step 10: Estimate your consumption.
Next, estimate how much you consumed as a decimal. If you ate the entire dish, it is an easy 1. If you ate half, you would have consumed 0.5 of the dish. One quarter? 0.25. And so on.
Multiply this decimal by total grams, and total calories, of carbs. These values provide the total amount of carbs, and calories derived from carbs, you consumed from this meal.
Carbohydrate Counting – step 10 - Estimate your consumption
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And That’s It!
You now know how to track carb intake and understand how to monitor and gauge your eating habits.
If you want to engage in carbohydrate counting over time, repeat this process for each snack and meal you consume throughout the day. This technique can help you lose weight, it can help you ensure you are eating a balanced diet, and it can help you meet your athletic goals.
If you are interested in how to track carbohydrate intake and other macronutrients using a simpler method, learn more at Intake!
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