For an average healthy diet you should choose carbohydrates to make up half of your daily calories. One gram of carbohydrate, whether is it is sugar or starch, contains four calories. One slice of bread has about 12 grams of carbohydrates. One typical chocolate bar may have about 50 grams of carbohydrates. A medium potato has about 35 grams of carbohydrates.
Although all carbohydrates have four calories per gram, some sources of carbohydrates are better for your diet than others. Fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds and grains are healthier than candy, sodas and pastries. Why? The healthy carbohydrate sources have great amounts of vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals and fiber, all of which are vital to good health. Candy, sodas, pastries and other junk foods usually are poor sources of nutrients and sometimes we refer to these foods as having "empty calories." This means the foods have lots of calories with little or no nutrition.
Since you need half of your calories from carbohydrates, you can calculate how many you need per day. For example, let's say a person needs 2,000 calories per day. That means that 1,000 calories should come from carbohydrates (2,000 X 0.5). Since each gram of carbohydrate has four calories, then you divide 1,000 by four (1,000/4) to get 250. A person who needs 2,000 calories each day needs about 250 grams of carbohydrates per day. Of those 250 grams, about 10 percent can come from added table sugar and sweeteners. That would be about 25 grams for a 2,000 calorie per day diet. That would equal about half of a candy bar, or less than one can of sugary soda. Unfortunately many people exceed that amount every day.
In order to meet your carbohydrate requirement each day, you need to know how many carbohydrates are in all of the foods you eat. It really is impossible to list every carbohydrate containing food here, however, here are some approximate amounts from common examples:
- One slice of bread - 12.5 grams total, of which 10 grams are starch and less than one gram is fiber.
- One cup of pasta - 43 grams total, of which 36 grams are starch and 2.5 grams are fiber.
- One medium apple - 19 grams total, of which eight grams are starch and three grams are fiber.
- One Snickers candy bar - 63.5 total grams, of which 53 grams are sugar, two grams are fiber.
- One cup of raisin bran cereal - 43 grams total, of which seven grams are fiber, 17 grams are starch and 16 grams are sugar.
- One cup of sugar frosted corn flake cereal - 28 grams total, of which 15 grams are starch, one gram is fiber, 12 grams are sugar.
- One four ounce glass of red wine - three grams total, of which, less than one gram is sugar.
- One eight ounce serving of low fat milk - 12 grams total, of which 12 grams are lactose.
- One cup broccoli - six grams total, of which 2.5 grams are fiber and 1.5 grams are sugar.
- One cup green beans - eight grams total, of which four grams are fiber.
- One cup sweet corn - 31 grams total, of which 21 grams are starch, three grams are fiber.
- Two cups lettuce - two grams total, of which one gram is fiber.
- One cup asparagus - four grams total, of which two grams are fiber.
- One medium orange - 15 grams total, of which three grams are fiber.
- One half medium grapefruit - nine grams total, of which 1.5 grams are fiber.
- One medium chocolate chip cookie - 16 grams total, of which seven grams are sugar.
- One cup strawberries - 12 grams total, of which three grams are fiber.
- One cup blueberries - 21 grams total, of which four grams are fiber and 15 grams are sugar.
- One half cup marinara sauce - 14 grams total, of which less than one gram is fiber.
- One medium tomato - five grams total, of which 1.5 grams are fiber.
- One medium potato with skin - 29 grams total, of which three grams are fiber, 25 grams are starch.
- One cup carrots - 12 grams total, of which 3.5 grams are fiber and two grams are starch.
- One slice of an apple pie - 40 grams total, of which 18 grams are sugar.
- One eight ounce cup of orange juice - 26 grams total, of which 21 grams are from fruit sugars.
- One cup of dry beans like pinto beans or navy beans - 47 grams total, of which 19 grams are fiber, 28 grams are starch.
You can search for more carbohydrate information online for all of your favorite foods at Calorie Count.
Nutrition Facts labels on packaged foods will also list the amount of carbohydrates per serving. It takes a little extra time and effort to look up the carbohydrate counts for all of the foods you eat, but with experience you will begin to have a good idea of approximate calorie counts and carbohydrate counts.
This Week's AssignmentThis is the end of lesson one and I have an easy assignment for you. You have learned about carbohydrates and why your body needs them. I want you to focus on eating healthful carbohydrates by increasing the amount of fruits and vegetables you eat. This week I want you to choose three new fruits or vegetables that you have never eaten before. You may eat them as snacks or as part of your regular meals. You may wish to continue to try new foods once each week or once a month after that.
This Week's QuizYou can test your knowledge of carbohydrates with this quiz: Quiz One - Carbohydrates
This is lesson one of the basic nutrition - macronutrients e-course. Up next, lesson two is about fiber. You may sign up for the whole e-course at Basic Nutrition - Macronutrients
"Carbohydrates." Nutrition Source, Harvard School of Public Health. March 20, 2007.
"USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference." USDA Agricultural Research Service. March 20, 2007.
"Dietary Reference Intakes for Energy, Carbohydrate, Fiber, Fat, Fatty Acids, Cholesterol, Protein, and Amino Acids." Institute of Medicine of the National Academies. September 05, 2002.
Gropper SS, Smith JL, Groff JL. "Advanced Nutrition and Human Metabolism." Fourth Edition. Belmont, CA. Wadsworth Pub Co. 2005.