A to Z Health Guide

Carbohydrate Counting with Chronic Kidney Disease

What is carbohydrate counting?

Carbohydrate counting is a way for you to keep track of the amount of sugar, known as carbohydrates, that you eat. If you have diabetes, it is important to learn about carbohydrates found in food. Keeping track of your carbohydrate intake will help you control your blood sugar levels.

What is a carbohydrate?

A carbohydrate is a food that is turned into sugar (glucose) when you digest it. Any carbohydrate food will raise your blood sugar. Complex carbohydrates raise sugar more slowly (it takes your body longer to digest and absorb these) while simple carbohydrates or sugars can raise your sugar level more quickly.

Where are carbohydrates found?

Carbohydrates are naturally found in many different foods.


Some carbohydrate foods may be used less often in your diet due to high potassium, sodium, or phosphorus content. Your dietitian will help you know which foods are best for you.

What is a serving size of carbohydrate?

A serving size of carbohydrate is the amount of food that will give you about 15 grams, or one serving, of carbohydrate. Serving sizes to reach 15 grams of carbohydrate vary between foods.

The following foods are examples of one carbohydrate choice:

1 slice of bread
1 cup of fresh fruit
½ cup of canned fruit
¾ cup dry cereal
½ cup hot cereal
½ cup mashed potatoes
½ cup corn

½ cup of pasta
1/3 cup of rice
1 medium sugar cookie
1 small piece cake, no icing
½ cup non dairy creamer
4 oz. juice or regular soda
6 pieces of hard candy

1 Fruit = 1 Milk = 1 Starch = 1 Low Calorie Dessert

Carbohydrate Counting and Meal Planning

Important things to remember when carbohydrate counting:

  1. Eat at about the same time every day to keep blood sugars even.
  2. Eat the same amounts of carbohydrate at each meal and snack.
  3. Eat a meal or snack every 3-4 hours to keep blood sugars even.
  4. Do not skip meals.

The amount of carbohydrate you need will depend on your weight and activity level. In general, 3 to 6 servings of carbohydrates are recommended at meals and 1 to 3 servings are recommended at each snack. Your dietitian will help you know how many servings are best for you.

You can check food labels for the grams of carbohydrates and convert the grams into servings. For example:

15 grams = 1 serving
30 grams = 2 servings
45 grams = 3 servings

Ask your dietitian to help with your carbohydrate counting plan.

Looking for nutrition guidance? Contact a CKD dietitian in your area.

Breakfast:___________________# of Carbohydrate Servings
Morning Snack:__________________# of Carbohydrate Servings
Lunch:_________________# of Carbohydrate Servings
PM Snack:_________________# of Carbohydrate Servings
Dinner:__________________# of Carbohydrate Servings
Bedtime Snack:_________________# of Carbohydrate Servings

Sample Meal Plan
Meals = 5 Carbohydrates, Snacks = 2 Carbohydrates

Breakfast ½ grapefruit 1
  1 ½ cups cold cereal 2
  1 slice of toast 1
  ½ cup nondairy creamer without added phosphorus 1
  6 oz tea or coffee 0
Snack 1 small bagel 2
  2 tablespoons of cream cheese 0
  4 oz water 0
Lunch Sandwich with 2 slices bread, 2 oz meat, 2 tsp mayonnaise 2
  1 cup grapes 1
  ½ cup macaroni salad 1
  1 medium sugar cookie 1
  8 oz water or diet non-cola soda 0
Snack 1 ½ cups pretzels unsalted 2
  4 oz water 0
Dinner 4 oz steak 0
  ½ cup mashed potatoes with margarine 1
  ½ cup corn 1
  1 cup fresh fruit 1
  salad(lettuce, carrot, red peppers) with dressing 0
  1 dinner roll 1
  1 medium cookie 1
  8 oz ice tea or diet non-cola soda 0
Snack 6 low salt crackers 1
  2 oz tuna with 2 tsp. mayonnaise 0
  1 apple 1
  4 oz water 0
Total Carbohydrate Choices 21

More than 30 million Americans—one in seven adults—have chronic kidney disease, and most don't even know it. More than 20 million others are at increased risk. The National Kidney Foundation, a major voluntary health organization, seeks to prevent kidney and urinary tract diseases, improve the health and well-being of individuals and families affected by these diseases, and increase the availability of all organs for transplantation. Through its 50 affiliates nationwide, the foundation conducts programs in research, professional education, patient and community services, public education and organ donation. The work of the National Kidney Foundation is funded by public donations.

The National Kidney Foundation wishes to thank its
Council on Renal Nutrition (CRN) for the development of this fact sheet.

If you would like more information, please contact us.

© 2015 National Kidney Foundation. All rights reserved. This material does not constitute medical advice. It is intended for informational purposes only. Please consult a physician for specific treatment recommendations.

The information shared on our websites is information developed solely from internal experts on the subject matter, including medical advisory boards, who have developed guidelines for our patient content. This material does not constitute medical advice. It is intended for informational purposes only. No one associated with the National Kidney Foundation will answer medical questions via e-mail. Please consult a physician for specific treatment recommendations.