Efficacy of carbohydrate counting in type 1 diabetes: a systematic review and meta-analysis

Lancet Diabetes Endocrinol. 2014 Feb;2(2):133-40. doi: 10.1016/S2213-8587(13)70144-X. Epub 2013 Oct 25.


Background: Although carbohydrate counting is the recommended dietary strategy for achieving glycaemic control in people with type 1 diabetes, the advice is based on narrative review and grading of the available evidence. We aimed to assess by systematic review and meta-analysis the efficacy of carbohydrate counting on glycaemic control in adults and children with type 1 diabetes.

Methods: We screened and assessed randomised controlled trials of interventions longer than 3 months that compared carbohydrate counting with general or alternate dietary advice in adults and children with type 1 diabetes. Change in glycated haemoglobin (HbA1c) concentration was the primary outcome. The results of clinically and statistically homogenous studies were pooled and meta-analysed using the random-effects model to provide estimates of the efficacy of carbohydrate counting.

Findings: We identified seven eligible trials, of 311 potentially relevant studies, comprising 599 adults and 104 children with type 1 diabetes. Study quality score averaged 7·6 out of 13. Overall there was no significant improvement in HbA1c concentration with carbohydrate counting versus the control or usual care (-0·35% [-3·9 mmol/mol], 95% CI -0·75 to 0·06; p=0·096). We identified significant heterogeneity between studies, which was potentially related to differences in study design. In the five studies in adults with a parallel design, there was a 0·64% point (7·0 mmol/mol) reduction in HbA1c with carbohydrate counting versus control (95% CI -0·91 to -0·37; p<0·0001).

Interpretation: There is some evidence to support the recommendation of carbohydrate counting over alternate advice or usual care in adults with type 1 diabetes. Additional studies are needed to support promotion of carbohydrate counting over other methods of matching insulin dose to food intake.

Funding: None.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Child
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 1 / diet therapy*
  • Diet, Carbohydrate-Restricted*
  • Female
  • Glycated Hemoglobin / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic


  • Glycated Hemoglobin A