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Carbohydrate Factors
A Precise Method for Meal Planning

by Dana Armstrong, RD, CDE, and Jan Chait

To use carbohydrate factors correctly, you must weigh the food exactly as you will eat it. If you peel the food before eating it, you should peel it before weighing it. If you cook the food before eating it, you should cook it before weighing it.

Here, however, some caution is in order. The Nutrition Facts information found on packages of rice, pasta, popcorn, dried legumes, and similar foods is for the raw or dry item, not the cooked product, so you cannot use the label information the way you can for cold cereal. For items like these, it’s better to use a resource such as the USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, a searchable government Web site located at www.nal.usda.gov/fnic/foodcomp/search, which lists nutrients in cooked portions of food as well as uncooked.

Analyzing recipes
Once you know how to figure and use carbohydrate factors for individual foods or combinations of foods, you can use them to analyze recipes with multiple ingredients, as well. It’s merely a matter of figuring the grams of carbohydrate for each ingredient, adding them up, preparing the dish, then weighing the entire dish and dividing the weight of the dish by the total number of grams of carbohydrate in the dish. The result is the carbohydrate factor of the dish.

Say you’re making a pot of chili using canned goods and packaged seasonings. Using the information on the labels, list the ingredients, amounts to be used, and grams of carbohydrate in those amounts. For the chili, it would look like this:
1 pound hamburger ….. 0 g
1 can (14 1/2 ounces) diced tomatoes ….. 14 g
1 can (15 1/2 ounces) kidney beans ….. 80 g
1 package seasoning mix ….. 20 g
TOTAL ….. 114 g

After it’s cooked, weigh the entire batch of chili on your gram scale. Take the total weight and divide that into 114 (the total grams of carbohydrate in the recipe). The result is the carbohydrate factor for your pot of chili. Now place the bowl you will eat from on your scale, zero it out, and ladle up however much you want to eat. Multiply the weight of your portion by the carbohydrate factor. Don’t forget to also weigh any crackers, taco chips, or cheese that you like to eat with your chili and calculate its carbohydrate content as well using its carbohydrate factor.

A lifetime of calculations?
At first, using carbohydrate factors requires a fair amount of time and arithmetic, but over time, it gets easier. For one thing, most people eat the same 75 foods over and over again. If you remember to write down the carbohydrate factors of the foods you eat regularly, there’s no need to recalculate them. Simply keep a list in a convenient place to use when you’re ready to eat. For recipes, write the carbohydrate factor on the recipe card or in the cookbook (but remember that you’ll have to recalculate if you substitute ingredients).

Steven, 16, has found a way to make using this system convenient and user-friendly. Steven has his own kitchen drawer, in which he keeps his scale and calculator. On the inside of the cabinet door above his drawer, he has taped his list of carbohydrate factors for the foods he eats regularly. Steven also keeps package labels for items such as granola bars and Halloween candy that are individually wrapped but bought in bulk, so that only the outside box or bag has a Nutrition Facts panel.

When it’s time for dinner, Steven pulls out his scale and calculator, places his dinner plate on the scale, and zeros it out. He then serves himself, weighing each item as he adds it to the plate, and looking up the carbohydrate factor on his list. For example, he might first serve himself some rice, check its carbohydrate factor, and multiply the weight of the rice by its carbohydrate factor. He places the result of that calculation in the calculator memory, zeros out the scale again, and adds some broccoli to his plate. Once again he looks up the carbohydrate factor, multiplies it by the weight of the broccoli, and adds that result to the grams of carbohydrate in the rice. He repeats this for each meal item, keeping a running tally of the grams of carbohydrate he is about to consume. When he’s got his total, he programs his insulin pump to deliver just the right bolus dose to cover the carbohydrate in his meal. If Steven comes back for seconds, he repeats the whole process, and when it’s time for dessert, he does it again.



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Statements and opinions expressed on this Web site are those of the authors and not necessarily those of the publishers or advertisers. The information provided on this Web site should not be construed as medical instruction. Consult appropriate health-care professionals before taking action based on this information.



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