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Carbohydrate Serving Sizes Demystified

Natalie Stein
March 27, 2020
Carbohydrate Serving Sizes Demystified

High-carbohydrate foods such as French fries, chocolate cake, and white rice may not be the best choices for preventing prediabetes or losing weight, but including nutritious carbs choices can have the opposite effect, as foods such as whole grains, fruit, certain starchy vegetables, and beans may lower risk for obesity, diabetes, and/or other conditions.

As with any other part of your diet, though, it is not just about the “what” you eat, but also about the “how much.” Though some proper portions of carbs make sense, intuition and habit can also steer you wrong. As the Lark DPP check-in mentioned, carb servings can be smaller than you might expect.

Right Size


A “serving” of carbohydrates is the amount of the food that gives you 15 grams of carbohydrates. That turns out to be any of the following.

  • A slice of bread or a half of an English muffin.
  • ⅓ cup of rice.
  • ½ cup of cooked pasta or oatmeal.
  • 1 small apple, 2 small tangerines, 1 small banana, 1 cup of strawberries, ¾ cup of blueberries, 1 cup of cut melon.
  • 3 cups of popped popcorn.
  • ½ cup of cooked beans, corn, or mashed sweet potato.

Before you start to panic, or wonder if you will ever be able to have a close-faced sandwich with 2 slices of bread again, here is more information: a good amount for a meal is 2 to 3 servings of carbs.

Exploded Portions


When talking about smart serving sizes, a good piece of advice is not to depend on what you are served or on habit In recent years, portion sizes have exploded in restaurants, packaged foods, and, finally, in many homes. Now, it is common for restaurants and cafes to serve…

  • Plates of pasta with 120 grams of carbohydrates.
  • Bagels and muffins with 60 grams of carbs.
  • Smoothies with 100 grams of carbs.
  • Ice cream with 70 grams of carbs.
  • Salads with 70 grams of carbs.

Restaurants are not the only culprits. Packaged foods can be misleading, with a frozen burrito, “snack-sized” bag of chips from a vending machine, or frozen dinner having more than three servings of carbs.

Help with Portions


If you cannot trust your server or your intuition to lead you to the right serving sizes, where can you go for help? Plenty of help is available, actually! Here are three sources.

  • Food labels are there for you on any packaged food. Check the serving size, the number servings per package, and the number of carbs per serving can be enlightening, shocking, and, well, healthy. Who knew that toaster pastries have 2 servings of carbohydrates each, and the entire 2-pastry package has 4 servings?! Knowing that can give you the freedom to eat just one, and maybe add a healthier partner such as peanut butter or cottage cheese, instead of eating both.
  • The internet is a great source for nutrition information from chain restaurants. Checking beforehand can let you discover that a beef burrito with a side of rice has 6 servings of carbs, an order of sweet and sour chicken with rice can have 8 servings, and a plate of eggplant parmigiana can have 7 servings.
  • Lark DPP is a tool that can increase awareness of portion sizes and guide you in making good choices.

Real Meals with Healthy Carbs


If carbohydrate foods have 15 grams of carbohydrates per serving, and you might have multiple high-carb foods in a single meal, and a good goal is 1 to 2 servings per snack or 2 to 3 for a meal, how does all this fit into practice? 

Do not worry! It is not rocket science. Here are some examples of meals with a smart amount of healthy carbs

  • Open-faced sandwich on half of a whole-grain bagel with non-fat cream cheese, walnuts, and blueberries.
  • 1 cup oatmeal with peanut butter and ½ sliced banana.
  • Pizza on 2 whole-grain English muffin halves, with tomato sauce, mozzarella, and chopped vegetables.
  • Chicken, shrimp, or tofu fajitas on small whole-wheat tortilla with salsa and avocado.
  • Tuna on a green salad with tomatoes, cucumbers, ½ cup of corn, and light dressing, plus 1 cup of fruit salad with ½ oz. of nuts.
  • ¾ cup whole-grain cereal and ½ cup sliced strawberries mixed into ½ cup cottage cheese.
  • Bowl with ½ cup beans, ½ cup corn, 3 oz. shredded chicken, and roasted eggplant, zucchini, and/or bell pepper.
  • Turkey or veggie burger and mushrooms on ½ whole-grain bun with ½ cup of baked sweet potato fries.

Healthy eating to lower diabetes risk can include nutritious carbs as long as they are in the right proportions. Lark DPP and nutrition facts panels can help you make smart choices to keep carbs in check while getting their benefits.

Written by Natalie Stein on March 27, 2020
Exercise, Fitness & Nutrition Expert | Lark Health
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