How Many Carbs Should I Eat In One Day — Carbohydrates are an essential nutrient for our bodies. The number of carbs you need each day depends on your age, health, and activity level. Because carbohydrates are what give us energy, this number can vary based on your physical needs. However, there is a certain amount of carbs-per-day that experts recommend for the average individual.
How many carbs do you need?
Depending on your age, sex, activity level, and overall health, your carbohydrate requirements will vary. According to the Mayo Clinic, 45 to 65 percent of your daily calories should come from carbohydrates. That’s equal to about 225 to 325 grams of carbs if you eat 2,000 calories a day.
It’s not always practical to count your carbs, so the American Diabetes Association offers a simple strategy to structure your plate at every meal to help you get the right amount of carbs:
- Draw an imaginary vertical line down the middle of your plate. Then draw a horizontal line across one half, so your plate is divided into three sections.
- Fill the big section with non-starchy vegetables, such as spinach, carrots, lettuce, green cabbage, or mushrooms.
- Fill one of the small sections with starchy vegetables, such as potatoes or winter squash, or grains, such as whole grain pasta or brown rice. Legumes, such as black peas or pinto beans, are also great options.
- Fill the other small section with protein. For example, you might choose low-fat options, such as skinless chicken or turkey, salmon or catfish, or lean cuts of beef.
- Add a small serving of fruit or low-fat dairy on the side.
- Choose foods that contain healthy fats such as olive oil, avocados, seeds, and nuts.
- Enjoy a low-calorie drink, such as water, unsweetened tea, or coffee.
What foods contain starch?
Starch can be found in starchy vegetables and grain products, such as:
- winter squash
- green peas
- dried beans
- bread and bread products
When you’re filling a small portion of your plate with grains or starchy vegetables, choose high-fiber, unprocessed options with little to no added sugar and fat. Starchy vegetables and whole grains are rich sources of minerals, vitamins, and fiber.
What foods contain fiber?
Fiber has many health benefits. According to the Mayo Clinic, a high-fiber diet can help prevent constipation, lower cholesterol, regulate blood sugar, and reduce your risk of heart disease and diabetes. If you’re 50 years old or younger, you should eat about 38 grams of fiber per day if you’re a man and 25 grams if you’re a woman. If you’re over the age of 50, you should eat about 30 grams per day if you’re a man and 21 grams if you’re a woman.
Dietary fiber can be found in:
- whole grains
- nuts, seeds, and legumes
Look for breads, crackers, pastas, and other products that list whole grains as their first ingredient. Check the nutrition label; foods that have 3-5 grams of fiber or more are good high-fiber options. You can also serve steamed or boiled whole grains, such as brown rice, wild rice, buckwheat, millet, quinoa, and oats.
What foods contain sugar?
It’s good to get your carbohydrate intake from complex carbohydrates, such as starch and fiber, as well as from natural sugars like fresh fruits and some vegetables.
You should avoid refined and added sugars as much as possible. These foods provide “empty” calories, which means they’re high in calories but low in nutrients. Foods with added sugars tend to have fewer nutrients than foods with naturally occurring sugars.
Not sure what to avoid? Watch out for these sugar-laden sweeteners on nutrition labels:
- brown sugar
- corn sweetener
- corn syrup
- fruit juice concentrate
- high-fructose corn syrup
- invert sugar
- malt syrup
- raw sugar
Limit foods that contain these added sweeteners to the occasional treat. Remember that ingredients on food labels are listed by quantity, from most to least. Foods where these sweeteners appear higher in the ingredient list, or which contain multiple types of sugar, will have a higher content of added sugar.
Getting the right carbs can be easy
Eating the right types of carbs in the right amounts may seem easier said than done, but there are some simple guidelines you can follow to stay on the right track:
- Avoid sugary drinks, such as soda and fruit “ades.” Choose whole fruit over fruit juice.
- Eat whole grain breads, pastas, crackers, and cereals, rather than refined grain alternatives. Brown rice, whole barley, and oatmeal are also good whole grain choices.
- Replace white flour products such as white pastas and breads with whole wheat options, or choose less processed high-fiber grains as listed above.
What are the risks of cutting carbs?
If you’re trying to cut carbs out of your diet, be careful! Your body needs some carbs to work properly. If you suddenly restrict the amount of carbs you eat, you might experience symptoms such as:
It’s best to follow a diet plan that focuses on healthy eating overall, rather than just restricting your carbs. Low-carb diets may promise to help you lose weight, but some of them can leave you nutritionally deficient. It’s always best to consult with your doctor or dietitian before you choose a weight-loss diet plan or change your eating habits. Your health team can help you learn how to get the right kind of carbs in your diet, while cutting empty calories.
Carbohydrates and your health
Despite their bad reputation, carbohydrates are vital to your health for many reasons.
Carbohydrates are the body’s main fuel source. During digestion, sugars and starches are broken down into simple sugars. They’re then absorbed into the bloodstream, where they’re known as blood sugar (blood glucose).
From there, glucose enters the body’s cells with the help of insulin. Glucose is used by the body for energy. Glucose fuels your activities — whether it’s going for a jog or simply breathing and thinking. Extra glucose is stored in the liver, muscles and other cells for later use. Or extra glucose is converted to fat.
Protecting against disease
Some evidence suggests that whole grains and dietary fiber from whole foods help lower your risk of heart disease and stroke. Fiber may also protect against obesity, colon and rectal cancers, and type 2 diabetes. Fiber is also essential for optimal digestive health.
Evidence shows that eating plenty of fruit, vegetables and whole grains can help you control your weight. Their bulk and fiber content aids weight control by helping you feel full on fewer calories. Despite what proponents of low-carb diets claim, few studies show that a diet rich in healthy carbs leads to weight gain or obesity.
Choose your carbohydrates wisely
Carbohydrates are an essential part of a healthy diet, and they provide many important nutrients. Still, not all carbs are equally good for you.
Here’s how to make healthy carbohydrates work in a balanced diet:
- Focus on eating fiber-rich fruits and vegetables. Aim for whole fresh, frozen and canned fruits and vegetables without added sugar. Or have measured portions of fruit juices and dried fruits, which are concentrated sources of natural sugar, but have more calories. Whole fruits and vegetables have many health benefits. They add fiber, water and bulk, which help you feel fuller on fewer calories.
- Choose whole grains. Whole grains are better sources than refined grains of fiber and other important nutrients, such as B vitamins. Refined grains go through a process that strips out parts of the grain — along with some of the nutrients and fiber.
- Stick to low-fat dairy products. Milk, cheese, yogurt and other dairy products are good sources of calcium, protein, vitamin D, potassium, and other vitamins and minerals. Consider the low-fat versions to help limit calories and saturated fat. And watch out for dairy products that have added sugar.
- Eat more beans, peas and lentils. Beans, peas and lentils are among the most versatile and nutritious foods. They are typically low in fat and high in folate, potassium, iron and magnesium. And they have useful fats and fiber. They are a good source of protein and can be a healthy substitute for meat, which has more saturated fat and cholesterol.
- Limit added sugars. Added sugar probably isn’t harmful in small amounts. But there’s no health benefit to having any amount of added sugar, such as in cookies and pastries. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that less than 10% of calories you eat or drink every day come from added sugar. Eating or drinking too many foods with sugar can also cause you to take in more than the calories you need each day.
How many carbs should you eat a day?
The dietary guidelines recommend that between 45% to 65% of the calories you eat come from carbs. This is the greatest percentage of all three of the macronutrients, which reinforces how important carbs are in your diet.
For someone eating 2,000 calories a day, this would mean between 900 and 1,300 calories coming from carbs. This is equal to eating 225 to 325 grams of carbs per day. Ultimately, there is no one-size-fits-all answer to how many carbs you need each day. There are many factors that affect your needs, such as activity level, metabolism, age, and health conditions.
It is better to focus on eating healthy, complex carbs rather than focusing too much on a specific number.
Health conditions and diseases most affected by carbohydrates
The carbs you eat likely play a role in the development of many health conditions, such as:
- Obesity: Excess carbs can lead to fat storage and contribute to weight gain and obesity.
- All types of diabetes (type 1, type 2, and gestational): Here, the body either does not make or does not respond well to the hormone insulin. Not having enough insulin leads to high blood glucose levels. Since eating carbs also raises blood glucose levels, people with diabetes need to closely monitor how many carbohydrates they eat and how often.
- Cardiovascular disease: Some high-carb diets, especially those high in simple carbs, can lead to high cholesterol levels. Reducing carb intake can help improve heart health by lowering triglyceride levels, as long as simple carbs are replaced with healthy fats, lean protein, and complex carbs.
- Gastrointestinal diseases: Conditions like diverticulitis, diverticulosis, colon polyps, and even colorectal cancer are more likely in people who have low levels of fiber in their diets. Eating a diet rich in fiber can help keep your gut healthy.
- Dental caries: Sugar from simple carbs increases the risk of developing cavities or dental caries. This can lead to tooth decay and many other teeth and gum disorders.
What is considered low carb?
There is no strict definition of what is considered “low carb.” Technically, consuming anything less than 26% of calories from carbs can be considered low carb. Some other sources consider anything under 100 to 150 grams per day to be low carb.
Which high-carb foods have lower carb alternatives?
|High carb||Lower carb|
|Rice||Cauliflower or other vegetable-based rice|
|Tortillas||Egg white tortilla or other low-carb wrap|
|Pasta noodles||Noodles made of vegetables like sweet potato, zucchini, carrots|
|Starchy vegetables like potatoes, peas, and corn||Nonstarchy vegetables like broccoli, onions, bell peppers, and asparagus|
|Fruit juice||Vegetable juice, or 1 serving of whole fruit|
|Bagels||Bagel thins or an English muffin|
|Bread and buns||Large lettuce leaves for wraps or sandwich thins|
|Wheat-based pizza crust||Pizza crust made out of vegetables like cauliflower and butternut squash|
|Grain-based flours||Almond flour|
|Soda and other sweetened beverages||Water and unsweetened drinks|
|Most sugar-sweetened desserts||Desserts based on nuts, coconut products, or avocados without much added sugar|
Should you count calories or carbs?
In most situations, it is not a good idea to count calories. This can quickly lead to disordered eating habits or eating disorders, both of which damage your health. Counting calories is also not a sustainable way to live. If you decide to count calories, it is best to do so only for a very short time, perhaps just to get a general idea of how many calories you consume on a typical day of eating.
There are some situations where counting carbs is helpful for some people. These people include people at risk of or already diagnosed with any form of diabetes, especially those who take insulin and are tracking their blood glucose levels daily. In these cases, it can be helpful to learn what a carb portion is, which is equal to 15 g of carbs. With time and practice, you can then become familiar with how many portions of carbs are in certain foods, (i.e., a small apple = 1 carb portion, a whole english muffin = 2 carb portions) and not have to strictly count carbs forever.