Question: How Many Carbohydrates Do I Need Each Day?
Answer: According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, about half your calories should come from carbohydrates. If you know how many calories you need each day (use my calorie calculators), you can figure out how many grams of carbs you need:
- Start by determining your daily calorie need and divide that number in half. That's how many calories should come from carbohydrates.
- Each gram of carbohydrate has four calories, so divide the number from the first step by four.
- The final number is equal to the amount of carbohydrates in grams you need each day.
Which Carbs are Which
Carbohydrates include complex carbohydrates, like starches, and simple sugars such as white sugar, high fructose corn syrup and honey. Choose 100-percent whole grains, and fruits and vegetables for most of your carbohydrates. Balance your carbohydrate choices with protein sources such as lean meat, poultry, eggs, or fish, and some healthy fat such as olive oil, avocado or nuts and seeds.
Avoid foods that contain large amounts of refined (white) flour and sugar, such as sugary snacks, pastries, sugar-sweetened soft drinks, candy, and cookies. A lot of processed foods contain added sugars, even those that don't taste sweet. These foods may contain too many calories while offering little or no nutritional value. Some of these foods also contain saturated, trans-fats and sodium that may be bad for your heart.
Additional Tips for Tracking Your Carbohydrate Intake
- Find the carbohydrate grams on the Nutrition Facts labels on packaged foods. You'll find calorie information there too, but be sure to double-check the serving size and number of servings per package.
- Use the USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference to calculate carbohydrate amounts for fresh foods. This is a large database that's updated regularly.
- Keep a food diary to track your information. You can print out your own pages and keep them in a notebook.
- Join Calorie Count to track calories, carbohydrates, and all the other nutrients, plus you'll find suggestions for a healthy diet. They also have a great smart phone app so you can track your calories when you're away from your computer.
United States Department of Agriculture and United States Department of Health and Human Services. "Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010." Accessed September 9, 2011. http://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2010.asp