The versatile hand: with practical uses – such as building – and emotional uses – such as blowing kisses. But did you know the hand can serve as a guide to nutrition?
The hand is becoming a popular simple way of measuring portion sizes, using the sizes of the fist, the palm, the finger, and the humble thumb as a guide for portion sizes.
Measuring food can be exhausting, and so, such a hand guide is ideal for situations where you either can’t or don’t want to dust off the scales.
For those with diabetes, though, this still doesn’t resolve the need to measure food. If you don’t know how many carbs in food will raise blood sugar levels, then it’s not particularly useful.
So, is there a hand(y) guide for counting carbs without the scales? Well, there is now! We’ve put together a list of some of the most common food, with carb info based on a cupped hand – as well as some other sizes that food comes in.
In this article (click to scroll down!):
Different sources, like the British Heart Foundation, for instance, have roughly the same outline on how the hand can be used to measure portions in a meal. Namely:
Protein (such as chicken or fish)
Women: the size of one palm
Men: the size of two palms
Non- starchy vegetables (such as broccoli, cabbage, or cauliflower)
Women: the size of one fist
Men: the size of two fists
Carbohydrates (such as potato, bread, or rice)
Women: as much as can be contained in one cupped hand
Men: as much as can be contained in two cupped hands
(We’ll look into this in a moment.)
Some sources give the following:
Women: the size of one thumb
Men: the size of two thumbs
Meanwhile, the British Heart Foundation has categories devoted to two kinds of fat-based food items:
The size of a fingertip
The size of two fingers
The hand portion sizes are great for diet control and answering questions like “how do you count carbs in homemade food?“. Yet, while a cupped hand gives an idea of how much carb-rich food to eat per meal, it doesn’t give an idea of how many carbs in food to account for.
Carbs are what raise blood sugar, and so, the carbs are the main focus of food and diabetes. So, knowing how many carbs in food is important for knowing how much insulin to take.
But the versatility of the hands continues: they can be used not only for portion sizes; they can measure food, too. Many different nutrition sources – such as the Handbook of Diabetes Management – suggest that one cupped hand of carbs is approximately half a measuring cup.
From this standard measurement, we can figure out how many carbs are in that food – and how much insulin to take.
Still, a measuring cup is not always a helpful measurement: the value of one cup is different in the UK and the US, while many other countries don’t even measure food in cups!
We want to make things easier for you, so we’ve done all the maths: used a US cup as the standard; checked with the USDA how many grams are in a cup of each individual food item; and then found how many grams of carbs are in that food item (while subtracting the fibre – the indigestible kind of carb which doesn’t affect blood sugar).
So, here you have some of the most common carb-rich foods, with the approximate numbers for grams of carbs in one cupped hand:
Most common carb-rich foods
- Long-grain white rice, cooked: 22g carbs
- Wild rice, cooked: 16g carbs
- Refined pasta, cooked: 20g carbs
- Whole-wheat pasta, cooked: 18g carbs
- Couscous, cooked: 18g carbs
- Mashed potato, cooked with margarine: 16g carbs
- Potato, boiled: 16g carbs
- Sweet potato, boiled: 16g carbs
- Quinoa, cooked: 16g carbs
- Oats cooked with water: 12g carbs
- Dry lentils, cooked: 11g carbs
- Canned chickpeas, drained: 14g carbs
- Canned kidney beans, drained: 15g carbs
- Bulgur, cooked: 13g carbs
And what about the other foodstuffs – particularly if that food doesn’t normally fit into a cupped hand?
For instance, in day-to-day life, you would count a banana as its own unit (i.e. one banana), not in terms of cups. So how many carbs in a banana?
In the following list, find the carbs of some common food items in their most practical units:
- 1 banana: 24g carbs
- 1 apple: 21g carbs
- 1 orange: 12g carbs
- 1 medium-sized glass of orange juice: 25g carbs
- 1 medium-sized glass of whole cow’s milk: 12g carbs
- 1 slice of white bread: 13g carbs
- 1 slice of multigrain bread: 9g carbs
- 1 medium-sized bar of milk chocolate: 114g carbs
- 1 large (sharing) bag of potato chips/crisps: 111g carbs
- 1 small (snack-sized) bag of potato chips/crisps: 32g carbs
We should emphasise that the above numbers give you an approximate idea of what’s in your food, for when you don’t have any other way to find it out.
However, you will, on the whole, need to figure out some precise numbers too – to give you more control over how the carbs affect your blood sugar.
This is where Hedia’s food database will be handy. It’s also quick: you can use the search bar and easily find your food. If you have an item from the database that you especially enjoy, you can add it to your favourites. You can even add your own meals!
When figuring out your insulin, Hedia’s insulin calculator includes the food database. This means you just need to enter your blood glucose level, add your food (including saved favourites), enter whether you’ve exercised and if you’ve taken insulin in the last four hours.
And then – ta-da! You’ve got an insulin recommendation!
We get that it can be exhausting thinking about carbs all the time. It can be especially tiring when others don’t understand: someone may present you with a bowl of carbs, with no idea of how much is in it.
It’s our job to make you feel like your diabetes isn’t a job. We want you to feel like you now have two life-hacks for those demanding dietary situations: an approximate cheat sheet of carbs, and a more sophisticated diabetes assistant with a food database.
Keep these lists as a quick guide for when you need to be reminded roughly how many carbs are in your meal: print it out and put it on your fridge, save it to your phone, or send it to your friend with diabetes. Get the whole guide here!
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