Lower Your Cholesterol While Counting Carbs

by Lisa Nelson, RD, LN Health Professional

Carbohydrate counting (a.k.a., “carb counting”) is often recommended for diabetics. However, when following a carb-counting diet, you also can make choices to promote lower cholesterol levels, which can reduce the risk of heart disease.

What is carb counting?

Carb counting is used to control blood glucose levels, with the goal of keeping your intake of carbohydrates consistent from meal to meal, day to day. To be clear, with carb counting, you count the number of carbohydrates consumed, not the number of calories.

A carb-counting diet is often recommended for diabetics who depend on insulin, as insulin dosage is determined by the number of carbohydrates consumed.

Foods containing carbohydrates

Here's where things can get complicated. Most foods contain carbohydrates, with the exception of fats and fresh meats. You need to refer to food labels frequently to know how many carbohydrates are contained in one serving and what constitutes a "serving" to begin with.

Carbohydrates are found in the following:

  • Bread

  • Pasta

  • Crackers

  • Cereal

  • Rice

  • Fruits

  • Fruit juices

  • Vegetables (especially vegetables high in starch, like potatoes, corn, and peas)

  • Sweeteners like honey, molasses, sugar, and syrup

  • Dairy products (i.e., cheese, milk, yogurt)

  • Desserts and candy

How to count carbsThe carbohydrate content of food is measured in grams. Fifteen grams of carbohydrates is equal to one carbohydrate serving. Let’s say you are allotted 300 grams of carbohydrates daily. Three hundred grams of carbohydrates equals 20 carb servings (300/15 = 20). With this knowledge, you would divide these 20 servings equally between meals and snacks throughout your day.

For example, you may choose to consume six carb servings with breakfast, lunch, and dinner for a total of 18 carb servings. This leaves you two carb servings for your afternoon snack.

Here are a few examples of foods containing 15 grams of carbohydrates, equaling one carbohydrate serving:

  • One small apple, peach, orange or banana

  • ½ cup applesauce

  • 2 Tbsp raisins

  • 1 cup milk

  • 1 cup yogurt

  • ½ cup corn, peas, potatoes, or squash

  • 3 cup lettuce

  • 1 slice bread

  • 1/3 cup rice or pasta

  • ½ cup cooked cereal

  • 1 ½ cup unsweetened puffed cereal

  • 6 saltines

  • 8 animal crackers

Learning to carb count may be challenging at first. It’s important to measure all foods you consume until you become familiar with the appearance of a serving size on your plate. When reading food labels, you’ll find carbohydrate content per serving is not always perfectly divisible by 15, and you'll also have to learn to calculate the carbohydrate content of foods you prepare yourself. There are general guidelines for various foods to assist you in this as you implement carb counting.

How to boost intake of high fiber carbs to reduce heart disease risk

Living with diabetes increases your risk for heart disease. Following a high fiber diet is one step you can take to promote lower cholesterol levels, blood sugar control, and reduced heart disease risk.

The Dietary Reference Intake (DRI) for men is 38 grams of fiber daily and for women it's 25 grams daily, until the age of 50. The DRI for men over the age of 50 drops to 30 grams of fiber daily, and for women to 21 grams daily.

Dietary fiber is partially digested, which means consuming a diet high in fiber can help “offset” your carbohydrate intake. For foods containing 5 grams or more of fiber per serving, subtract half the fiber grams from total carbohydrate grams per serving before calculating total carbs.

For example , one slice of 100 percent whole wheat Fiber One bread contains 23 carbohydrates and 7 grams of dietary fiber. Based on carbohydrates alone, one slice of this bread equals two carb servings. However, it’s a high fiber food. So, you can subtract 3.5 grams (i.e., half the fiber content per serving) from 23, dropping the carbohydrate content to 19.5, which makes this high fiber bread equal one carb instead of two.

Additional high fiber foods include:

  • Split peas

  • Lentils

  • Black and lima beans

  • Chickpeas

  • Whole grain pasta

  • Oatmeal

  • Brown rice

  • Quinoa

  • Bran flakes

  • Barley

  • Raspberries

  • Blackberries

  • Coconut

  • Figs

  • Artichoke

  • Broccoli

  • Avocados

  • Turnip greens

  • Green peas

  • Acorn squash

  • Okra

  • Brussel sprouts

  • Pear or apple with the skin

Most Americans consume less than half the recommended amount of dietary fiber daily. Consuming a diet high in fiber is only one way to promote healthy cholesterol levels and reduced heart disease risk.
Lisa Nelson is a dietitian/nutritionist with a genetic predisposition for high cholesterol and heart disease. She guides clients to lower cholesterol and blood pressure levels through practical diet and lifestyle changes. Learn more and sign up to receive How to Make Heart Healthy Changes into Lifelong Habits at http://lisanelsonrd.com.

Lisa Nelson, RD, LN
Meet Our Writer
Lisa Nelson, RD, LN

Lisa Nelson RD, a registered dietitian since 1999, provides step-by-step guidance to lower cholesterol and lower blood pressure, so you can live life and enjoy your family for years to come. Lisa's passion for health comes from her own family history of heart disease, so she doesn't dispense trendy treatments; Lisa practices what she teaches in her own daily life. Because her own health is the foundation of her expertise, you can trust that Lisa will make it truly possible for you to see dramatic changes in your health, without unrealistic fads or impossibly difficult techniques.