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4.5: Carbohydrate Recommendations

  • Page ID
    21119
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    Learning Objectives

    • Identify the Acceptable Macronutrient Distribution Range for carbohydrates.
    • Identify the Adequate Intake for fiber.
    • Identify the recommended intake of added sugars.

    How Many Carbohydrates Does a Person Need?

    The Food and Nutrition Board of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine has set the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) of carbohydrates for children and adults at 130 grams per day (Table \(\PageIndex{1}\)). This is the average minimum amount the brain requires to function properly. It does not include the amount of carbohydrate needed to support daily activities. The Acceptable Macronutrient Distribution Range (AMDR) for carbohydrates is 45-65% of total calories; this range of intake is associated with a decreased risk for chronic diseases. When translating the AMDR into calories, it means that a person following a 2,000 kilocalorie diet should consume 900-1,300 carbohydrate calories (225-325 grams of carbohydrate) each day. The USDA Dietary Guidelines recommend that less than 10% of total calories consumed should come from added sugars. The Food and Nutrition Board has also set the Adequate Intake (AI) for dietary fiber at 14 grams for every 1,000 calories consumed. This translates into an AI of 38 grams for men and 25 grams for women. The recommendations for dietary fiber are based on intake levels known to prevent heart disease.

    Table \(\PageIndex{1}\): Dietary Reference Intakes for Carbohydrates and Fiber
    Carbohydrate Type RDA (g/day) AMDR (% calories)
    Total Carbohydrates 130 45–65
    Added Sugars   < 10
    Fiber 38 (men),* 25 (women)*  
    * denotes Adequate Intake

    Added Sugars

    There are two types of sugars in our diets: naturally occurring sugars and added sugars. Naturally occurring sugars are found in foods such as fruit (which contains fructose) and milk (which contains lactose). Added sugars include any sugar or sweetener that is added to foods or beverages during processing or preparation. A major source of added sugars in the American diet is sugar-sweetened beverages. There is consistent scientific evidence that consuming sugar-sweetened beverages increases weight gain and risk for diseases such as Type 2 diabetes and heart disease.1,2 In addition, diets high in added sugars are associated with dental problems such as cavities and gum disease, increased levels of low-density lipoproteins (LDL, sometimes referred to as “bad cholesterol”), and decreased levels of high-density lipoproteins (HDL, sometimes referred to as “good cholesterol”). Currently, Americans consume 13% of their total calories from added sugars (Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\)). The Nutrition Facts label includes information on added sugars which can be used to identify foods and beverages that have a high amount of added sugars.

    Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\): Sources of Added Sugar in the Diet ("Sugar and the Diet: Sources of Added Sugars" by The Sugar Association)

    Dietary Sources of Carbohydrates

    Carbohydrates are contained in all five food groups: grains, fruits, vegetables, protein (only in beans and some processed meats), and dairy products. Simple carbohydrates are more prevalent in fruits, fruit juices, and dairy products, while complex carbohydrates are more plentiful in starchy vegetables, beans, and whole grains. In choosing dietary sources of carbohydrates the best ones are those that are nutrient-dense, meaning they contain more essential nutrients per calorie of energy. In general, nutrient-dense carbohydrates are minimally processed and include whole grains, low-fat dairy products, fruits, vegetables, and beans. In contrast, empty-calorie carbohydrate foods are highly processed and often contain added sugars and fats. Sugar-sweetened beverages, cakes, cookies, and candy are examples of empty-calorie carbohydrates.

    Key Takeaways

    • The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) of carbohydrates for children and adults is 130 grams per day. This is the average minimum amount the brain requires to function properly. The Acceptable Macronutrient Distribution Range (AMDR) for total carbohydrates is 45-65%.
    • Health recommendations include limiting added sugar intake to less than 10% of total calories.
    • The Adequate Intake (AI) for fiber is 25 grams per day for women and 38 grams per day for men.
    • Carbohydrates are contained in all five food groups: grains, fruits, vegetables, proteins (in beans and some processed meats) and dairy products.

    References

    1. Imamura F, O'Connor L, Ye Z, et al. Consumption of sugar sweetened beverages, artificially sweetened beverages, and fruit juice and incidence of type 2 diabetes: systematic review, meta-analysis, and estimation of population attributable fraction. British Journal of Sports Medicine 2016;50:496-504.
    2. Malik VS, Li Y, Pan A, et al. Long-term consumption of sugar-sweetened and artificially sweetened beverages and risk of mortality in US adults. Circulation 2019;139:2113-2125.

    4.5: Carbohydrate Recommendations is shared under a CC BY-NC-SA license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by LibreTexts.

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