Thursday, January 20, 2011

Factor THIS! (a repost)

We often get asked how we are able to achieve such good A1Cs and reasonably stable (unless something crazy is going on) blood sugars. I believe part of it is owed to the fact that I weigh Elise's food and use carb factors. We find that being off by 5g can make all the difference between a high/low BG and an in-range one. Of course, this will change as Elise gets older, but for now you will always find me with my trusty scale, and list of carb factors (that are mostly in my head).

I wrote this post almost two years ago, and thought I'd re-pot it for anyone who is interested.


When Elise was first diagnosed with diabetes, I was overwhelmed by trying to count carbs. A calculator and scale became my best friends, and I am never without a piece of paper and a pen when I'm fixing Elise a meal.

But the math part was very difficult for me, and I often had to write out the equation on the paper to get my mind around it (for example, if 1 oz of banana has 6g of carbs, than how many carbs are in .7 oz of banana). This especially sucked if I was in a hurry.

Then someone on a message board told me about carb factors. I read their explanation, but my poor little brain was so blitzed from all the new information I was learning, that I couldn't make sense of what they were telling me. So I put carb factors on the back burner until a time when I wasn't feeling so stupid.

Well, the fog has lifted and I am a carb factor convert. If you haven't heard of carb factors before, here's an explanation:

Different foods are made up of different parts: carbs, fat, fiber... etc. Carb factors are the percentage of a food that is made up of carbs. Let's use a banana as an example. They are 20% carbs, or have a carb factor of .20. But how do I figure out exactly how many carbs are in the little bit that I give Elise for a snack?

To figure out exactly how many carbs are in that piece of banana, all I need to do is weigh the banana (in grams, not ounces). Since I know that any portion of a banana is 20% carbs, all I need to do is multiply the weight by .20 (the carb factor for a banana). So if a banana weighs 15 grams, the amount of carbs in that banana is 15 x .20 or 3g of carbs.

You can even use carb factors for pre-packaged foods. Elise LOVES goldfish crackers, but can't eat an entire serving. To figure out the carb factor for her crackers, I just divide the amount of carbs in a serving (19g), by the serving size (30g). Remember, all weights MUST be done in grams for it to work. So goldfish crackers have a carb factor of .63. To find out the carb factor of any packaged food, it's always carbs divided by grams.

So easy! All you need is a scale that weighs in grams, a calculator, and a list of carb factors. I'm working on compiling my own list and hope to post them on my blog soon. Apparently, you can also find a list of carb factors in Pumping Insulin by John Walsh (I've never actually read this book, but that's what I hear).

I've started labelling all my packaged foods that Elise eats with their carb factor. The cheerios container has a big .71 on it.

Figuring out the carb factor for homemade food is easy too! Just figure out the # of carbs in each ingredient and weigh the whole thing and add up all the carbs and divide the total carbs by the total weight and you now have the carb factor for your food. So when I made a stew for dinner the other day, I weighed all the veggies and other ingredients that went into it. The whole pot of stew had 80g of carbs. When it was done, I poured the stew into a container, weighed it, and it came to 1560g (not including the weight of the container, of course!). Then I divided 80/1560, and found that my stew has a carb factor of .05.

If you need to convert ounces to grams, there are just over 28g in an ounce.

I hope I did a good job explaining carb factors. I know they have really made things easier for me.

Edited to add: I can't believe I forgot this part. A totally easy way to find the carb factor for a food item is to go to Calorie King's food search, type in the food and click search. Then select the item from their list and when you get to the page where you can select a serving size type 100 and choose g from the drop down box. Then in the nutrition box, find the carbs, move the decimal point over to the left two spaces and you have that items carb factor... easy!

Edited further to add: As per Danielle's request, click here for a list of some (I wish it were more extensive) of the carb factors we use most often. It's also a mobile site, so you should be able to access it on your phone.


  1. New to your blog! Kinda sticking my pinky toe into the DOC world.

    Great post. We use carb factors too, but not all of the time. I find them very helpful for fruits, veggies, and baked goods. I really want to get a portable food scale.

    --We still have crazy numbers though. :/

  2. I love this post and reference it all of the time. Now that I have my handy dandy food scale and have checked out Pumping Insulin I am getting better with carb factors. You are a super awesome pancreas!

  3. As you know..I LOVE me some carb factors. We do the same as you..we weigh EVERYTHING and use carb factors and look up info on calorie king for food weighed to the exact gram..but our numbers are not as steady as yours..not by a long shot! I am always amazed when you post blood sugars.

  4. Loved this post the first time and loving it again. Just posted on FB :)

    Carb factoring could become one of my 2012 resolutions...

  5. Very timely as I was just about to ask you to write a guest post about carb factors (I still might!).

    I've been doing carb factors a little more lately rather than depending on exact serving sizes.

    Though I completely messed up before Christmas and gave my daughter twice the insulin for pumpkin bread because I figured it wrong! I thought I was doing so well figuring out the carbs for the reciped...not!

  6. We also weigh everything. I think Ive only swag bolused like 3x. I dont know if what we do is the same as I dont do the percentage per se. But I look at the serving size and carb count and then divide it up to see how many carbs in what hes actaully eating. Like 3 oz of blah is 15 grams so its 5grams an oz and then more math if less than an ounce..

    Did that make sense? Lol can you email me? :)

  7. I really should try this. At our endo appt a couple weeks ago, the endo pointed out how a lot of the Beans numbers are all over the place. I told him it would help if I counted carbs. I've been so bad at just pulling a number out of nowhere and then fixing her high/low later. *sigh*

    But, in my defense, her A1C went down ever so slightly. :)

    P.S. Where's that fantastic list of yours? I need a jumping off point.

  8. Carb Factors saved us...and surprisingly I found it on the one from our Endo office even taught us about CFs when Joe was diagnosed.

    Joanne, you are a lifesaver!!! I am sure many people out here in the vast DOC world will be thanking you for the tip. I just wish I had found you and the "girls" earlier on my "D" journey with Joe.

  9. We have been using carb factors for a couple of years now and I love it! No one at our Endo's office even acts like they know what it is. To me, it would be so much easier to teach this method that is hard and fast instead of so much guessing. Because really, that is how we are taught when they show us carb counting. Guessing is no good with a toddler and 5 grams of carbs will make a big difference. I have a list of factors that I put into a small photo book in different categories. We did a trip to Disney and I took my travel scale and carb factor booklet everywhere. Thank you for posting this and letting others know about it!

  10. Hey thanks! I really do need to try this. I'll let you know how it goes.

  11. The Calorie King is my life line, Bible, and friend. I don't know how we would travel without it.

  12. Joanne, Just wanted you to know that I consulted your post for Natalie's lunch today! Your post was very informative. I have been doing carb factors for a while now without knowing they were called carb factors! Ha! It just made sense to me, but I am a former Accountant, so I love numbers! Dorky, I know. I have a question for you. We have some frozen waffles (store brand, whole wheat...actually only ones I've found with whole wheat flour as first ingredient), so the package says they weigh 35 grams a waffle and 14 carbs per waffle. Every one I have weighed has been more than 35 grams. More like around 42 grams and some even more. So here is what I did to calculate carbs....14 divided by 35 equals .4 carb factor and then multiplied that by 42 to get 17 carbs. Is this what you would have done?? It confuses me when it does not weigh what the package says it does and then I'm not sure what to base the carb factoring on. Does this make sense? Sorry for the rambling...I've been meaning to ask this question for awhile. Thanks!! :-)


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