Calculating Carbohydrates for Recipes which don't have
Nutritional Information
Mary Jean Renstrom
v1.42, 3-26-99
Don't limit yourself to eating foods that come with Nutritional Infor-
mation labels. Many cookbooks now list nutritional information for
recipes; but what about your grandma's potato salad recipe which has
been handed down through the generations? With a little bit of knowl-
edge, and a few basic tools, you can figure the carbohydrate content
of any food you eat.
______________________________________________________________________
Table of Contents
1. Essential Tools
2. The Basic Procedure
2.1 Standard equivalents for measuring with the Imperial (English) system
2.2 How much is in a serving?
2.2.1 Sometimes it's obvious...
2.2.2 Sometimes it's not...
2.3 Using Carbohydrate Factors and Weighing Food in Grams
2.4 How do I know which ingredients contain carbohydrate?
3. An Example
4. A Few Miscellaneous Thoughts on Carb Counting
5. Copyright Notice
______________________________________________________________________
1. Essential Tools
Items you will need to calculate the carbohydrate content of any
recipe are:
o A good book of carbohydrate values. Your book should list the
carbohydrate content of several different increments of "raw"
ingredients like flour and potatoes. Some books only offer
carbohydrate values for "ready-to-eat" foods or for foods found at
restaraunts. While these have their place, they are not going to
be useful for this purpose. There is a list of good nutritional
value books on the Insulin Pumper's website.
o A kitchen scale. This should be able to weigh several pounds at a
time. (For a recipe such as apple pie, you will need to weigh the
apples all together.) It need not be a fancy digital scale,
however. You can find scales at restaurant supply houses or
"cooking" stores.
o Measuring cups and spoons. Make sure you have a complete set of
measuring spoons and both dry and liquid measuring cups.
o A calculator. You'll also want to have paper and a pencil.
2. The Basic Procedure
Calculating the carbohydrate content of any recipe involves three
simple steps.
1. Looking up and calculating the carbohydrate value of each
ingredient in the recipe,
2. adding them together,
3. dividing the total number of carbohydrates in the recipe by the
number of servings.
The tricky part can come when the amount of an ingredient in your
recipe is not expressed in the same units as it is listed in your
carbohydrate book. Another "problem area" can be determining the
correct serving size.
2.1. Standard equivalents for measuring with the Imperial (English)
system
Here is a list of standard equivalents for the units of Imperial
measuring. These can also be found in many cookbooks. It is useful
to know this information in case the amount of an ingredient required
in your recipe is not the amount listed in your carbohydrate book. Of
course, if you cook with the Metric system, you will not need to use
these.
o 1 Tablespoon = 3 teaspoons
o 1/4 cup = 4 Tablespoons
o 1 pint = 2 cups
o 1 quart = 2 pints
o 1 gallon = 4 quarts
2.2. How much is in a serving?
2.2.1. Sometimes it's obvious...
Some recipes have obvious serving sizes. For instance, if you are
making chocolate chip cookies, the serving size is one cookie. (No,
it is NOT the entire batch of raw cookie dough!!) In this case, you
would bake the entire batch of dough, keeping track of how many
cookies your kids swipe along the way. Figure the total amount of
carbs in the entire recipe and divide this number by the number of
cookies you ended up with (including the "swiped" ones!). I'm sure
you know by now that you never end up with the same number of cookies
that the recipe says you will. Nobody makes cookies that small! The
result is the number of carbs in one cookie. Now, if you decide that
the serving size is more than one cookie, that's your business and
nobody else's. Just multiply by the appropriate number.
2.2.2. Sometimes it's not...
Other recipes are not so clear-cut, like grandma's potato salad. In
cases like this, you will need to measure the total volume of the
finished recipe and divide it into what seems like a reasonable
serving size. This can be a bit messy the first time you make a
recipe because you end up scooping it out of one container into
another using a measuring cup. Keep track and compute the total
volume. Decide what amount is a reasonable serving size and divide
this amount by the total volume. The result is the percentage of the
total in one serving. Multiply this percentage by the total number of
carbs in the recipe to get the number of carbs per serving. Once you
have done this, make a note on the recipe so you'll know that the
serving size is 1/2 cup (for example) and how many carbs are in each
serving. One of my biggest pet peeves is a recipe that says, "Makes
six servings" instead of, "Makes six servings, 1/2 cup each". It is a
subtle difference but can make life soooo much easier. :-)
With some recipes, it works better to visually divide the food into
equal portions and then measure the volume of one portion. A
casserole served in a rectangular flat-bottomed dish can be easily
divided in half with a spatula and then again into quarters, or
sixths, or whatever you like. Once you have divided it, use a
measuring cup to determine how much is in one serving and make a note
on the recipe.
Another way to determine the number of carbs per serving is to weigh
the finished product, before you serve any of it. This works well for
recipes that are transferred into a serving bowl and then served
"family style". An example would be stir-fried vegetables. You could
weigh the entire stir-fry, and then weigh the portion you wish to eat.
Divide the weight of your portion by the weight of the entire recipe
to get the percentage of the stir-fry that you are eating. Then
multiply this percentage by the total number of carbs in the entire
recipe to get the number of carbs in your portion. Of course, for
this method to work, you need to have a scale which can be "zeroed"
with a pan, platter, or serving bowl on it, so you aren't including
the weight of the container in your calculations. This is called a
"tare" function, look for this when you are shopping for a scale. You
would need to transfer the food from its cooking pan to another
container for which the scale has been zeroed. Then zero the scale
again for your plate or bowl and measure the food into that. Again,
make a note on the recipe telling you what the serving size is and how
many grams of carbohydrate are in one serving. Then, the next time
you make the recipe, you won't have to go through all the weighing
procedures again.
2.3. Using Carbohydrate Factors and Weighing Food in Grams
Rather than measuring the volume, some people prefer to weigh food in
grams and use "carbohydrate factors" (also known as gram factors) to
figure the carbs. Carbohydrate factors give the amount of
carbohydrate in one gram of a particular food. There is a list of
carbohydrate factors for several foods in the back of the book,
"Pumping Insulin", but it doesn't cover grandma's potato salad. It is
easy to figure the carbohydrate factor for any food using a scale
which is set to read in grams.
Figure the total amount of carbohydrate in the recipe as described
previously and weigh the entire salad (or whatever you are making).
Divide the number of carbs for the total recipe by the weight in grams
to get the amount of carbohydrate in one gram. This is the
carbohydrate factor for that food. Then, weigh your individual
portion and multiply the weight in grams by the carbohydrate factor.
Again, making notes on the recipe will save you the tedium of weighing
the entire recipe each time you make it.
2.4. How do I know which ingredients contain carbohydrate?
Any food that originally started out as a plant contains carbohydrate.
This includes all fruits and vegetables, as well as grains. Flour is
ground grain so it contains carbs. Pasta is processed grain, so it
also contains carbs. In addition to this, many dairy products such as
milk and yogurt contain carbohydrate. (I suppose you could think of
it as the cow or goat processing the plants...) Eggs also contain a
small amount of carbohydrate. If you are unsure of which ingredients
to include in your carbohydrate total, look it up in your book; if it
has no carbohydrates, the book will say so.
3. An Example
Here is a recipe that I recently made. It was originally found on the
side of a box of "Minute" brand tapioca. No nutrional information was
given for the recipe, although the box does list the nutrional value
of the tapioca itself. (This is easy to make and delicious, by the
way!)
Tapioca Pudding
1/3 cup sugar
3 Tablespoons MINUTE tapioca
2 3/4 cups milk
1 egg, well beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla
Mix sugar, tapioca, milk, and egg in saucepan; let stand 5 minutes.
Then, stirring constantly, cook on medium heat until mixture comes to
a full boil. (Pudding thickens as it cools.) Remove from heat, stir
in vanilla. Cool 20 minutes; stir. Spoon into dishes. Serve warm or
chilled. Store leftover pudding in refrigerator. Makes 6 servings.
Here is the ingredient-by-ingredient break-down of how I calculated
the carbs for this recipe:
o Sugar - My book lists granulated white sugar as having 199.8 carbs
per cup. I divided this by 3 to get the amount in 1/3 cup. The
answer is 66.6 grams. I would normally round this up to 67 grams.
o Tapioca - The box lists a serving size of tapioca as being 1 1/2
teaspoons and contains 5 grams of carbohydrate for that serving
size. I need to know how much is in 3 Tablespoons. There are 3
teaspoons in a Tablespoon (or to put it another way, 1 1/2
teaspoons equals half a Tablespoon) so 1 Tablespoon of tapioca has
10 grams of carbohydrate. Three Tablespoons has 30 grams.
o Milk -Cow's milk has 12 grams of Carbohydrate per cup. So I
multiplied 12 by 2.75 to get the amount in 2 3/4 cups. It is 33
grams.
o Egg - 1 large chicken egg (raw) has 0.6 grams of carbohydrate.
o Vanilla - 1 teaspoon has 0.3 grams of carbohydrate.
To be honest, I consider the carbs in the egg and vanilla to be
negligible and didn't figure them in when I did my calculations. You
could include them if you wish.
The total number of carbs in the recipe is 67 + 30 + 33 = 130 grams.
I decided to use 1/2 cup as my serving size and dished the pudding out
into bowls using a 1/2 cup measure. It made exactly six servings. So
I divided 130 by 6 to get 21.67 grams per serving. I rounded up to 22
grams per 1/2 cup serving.
4. A Few Miscellaneous Thoughts on Carb Counting
There are certain foods I almost always weigh or measure and others
that I almost never weigh or measure. In general, the higher the carb
content of a food, the more important it is to know the exact amount
you are eating. For instance, I always measure or weigh the potatoes,
rice, or pasta I eat at dinner. I hardly ever measure the green
beans. Of course, I don't weigh or measure my meat, unless it has had
some carbohydrate "enhancement" such as meatloaf. I weigh baked
potatoes after they are baked and figure 6 grams per ounce. I use a
general rule that 1/2 cup of cooked potatoes, white rice, or pasta has
20 grams of carbohydrate. I know this is, perhaps, not exactly
precise, but it saves my sanity and works out pretty well.
My life became much easier the day I realized that almost all bread
has approximately 13 grams of carbohydrate per ounce. You see, my
husband is a terrific bread baker and makes a large portion of our
daily bread. He does it the old-fashioned way, without a bread
machine. We were having a very hard time trying to convert all his
recipes to "carbohydrate known". Especially since he often "invents"
his own recipes as he goes. It was almost to the point that he was
going to give up baking bread and we would be sentenced to eating
grocery store bread because it comes with the nutritional information.
We finally noticed that the calculations were coming in very close to
13 grams per ounce. At that point, I told him to put away the
calculator and get out the yeast. Now I just weigh each slice of
bread as I slice it off the loaf and figure the carbs based on the
magic number 13. This works for those lovely bagels from the deli
too. (My husband doesn't make bagels, he calls them "defective
bread". I still love to eat them, though, and ignore his remarks!)
For me, the best part of pumping is carb counting. But without the
pump, carb counting wouldn't be very practical for me. I attribute my
improved diabetes control to the ability to count carbs and give
precisely the amount of insulin I need. I hope that you will find the
information in this article useful. As always, good health, and happy
eating!
5. Copyright Notice
Copyright (C) 1999, Insulin Pumpers and Mary Jean Renstrom
Mjrenstrom@aol.com
Permission to use, copy, distribute this document for any
purpose is hereby granted, provided that the author's / edi-
tor's name and this notice appear in all copies and/or sup-
porting documents; and that an unmodified version of this
document is made freely available. This document is dis-
tributed in the hope that it will be useful, but WITHOUT ANY
WARRANTY, either expressed or implied. While every effort
has been taken to ensure the accuracy of the information
documented herein, the author / editor / maintainer assumes
NO RESPONSIBILITY for any errors, or for any damages, direct
or consequential, as a result of the use of the information
documented herein.