I loved D-psychologist Jessica Bernstein's assertion that aiming to control your blood glucose levels with diabetes is a lesson in frustration. Rather, the best we can hope for is to influence our BG "by combining enough insulin and exercise to burn the sugar," she says.

Right on, Jessica! — which is I'll talk about carb-guessing today, rather than carb-counting (which implies that it's an exact science). I don't believe it is. The best we can hope for is to make a reasonable educated guess about the carb contents of the food in front us, especially if it's restaurant and/or ethnic food containing mysterious sauces and such.

In case you're wondering, carb skills are my Next Challenge working with legendary diabetes educator Gary Scheiner, who's doing his best to whip me into shape.

I took his online carb skills test the other day, and was shocked to score under 50 (translation = "you should definitely work to improve your carb counting skills") Ahem... It is true that I got only 4 questions right out of 15 in the "Applied" section, where you look at food photos and guess the carb count. But that's because I overestimated in every single case but one!  And I do beg to differ with a few of their examples, such as:

That's not to say that this online test wasn't helpful, because it sure was. I learned, for example, that a cup of rice has more carbohydrate than a cup of pasta, which I did not know. To think that I avoid pasta like the plague, but eat rice several times a week - yipes!

Gary's team also sent me some very useful lists derived from his book, The Ultimate Guide to Accurate Carb-Counting, which I'm ashamed to say I haven't read yet ('splains alot, huh?)

Here are a few tips I feel compelled to share:

Chinese food - Stay away from the Lo Mein (pork or vegetable)! According to Gary's lists, this stuff packs ca. 85g carb/serving. Sweet-n-sour pork and any kind of rice are also up there in the 70g carb range, for the portion sizes most restaurants dish up.

Thai food - Did you know coconut milk is loaded with saturated fat — 45g per cup measure?!  Darn it. Go for the Green Papaya Salad instead.

Italian food - pasta is a much better choice than pizza; both are high-carb, but pizza dough is super-calorie-dense, even without the cheese and toppings, I understand.

Middle Eastern food - lamb is higher in fat and calories than beef, but you probably knew that. Know what else is high-fat? Hummus and Baba Ganoush (eggplant puree). Darn it again.

Mexican - Ceviche (raw marinated fish) might be 'the perfect food' as it's low in both carbs and fat. Everything else in Mexican cuisine is pretty much the opposite. But you knew that too.

This also might not be news to you, but I found this little "Healthy Ordering" chart pretty handy:


Au gratin or in cheese sauce

Baked or roasted

Buttered, buttery or in butter sauce

Broiled or grilled

Breaded and fried

Poached or steamed

Casserole, hash, or pot pie


Creamed, creamy or in cream sauce

Garden fresh

French fried, batter fried or crispy

Crispy or crunchy greens/vegetables

Hollandaise, pastry

Cooked with tomato or lemon juice

In its own gravy or with gravy

In its own juices



Scalloped or escalloped

In marinara or wine sauce

So what tips do you all know about healthy eating / carb guessing that might help the rest of us? Please do tell...

Disclaimer: Content created by the Diabetes Mine team. For more details click here.


This content is created for Diabetes Mine, a consumer health blog focused on the diabetes community. The content is not medically reviewed and doesn't adhere to Healthline's editorial guidelines. For more information about Healthline's partnership with Diabetes Mine, please click here.