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Medicine LibreTexts

4.5: Carbohydrate Recommendations

  • Page ID
    21119
  • 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. The Acceptable Macronutrient Distribution Range (AMDR) for carbohydrates is 45-65% of total calories. This means that on a 2,000 kilocalorie diet, a person should consume 900-1,300 carbohydrate calories (225-325 grams of carbohydrate) each day. The USDA Dietary Guidelines recommend that less than 10 percent of total calories consumed should come from added sugars. The Food and Nutrition Board has also set Adequate Intakes for dietary fiber, which are 38 grams for men and 25 grams for women. The recommendations for dietary fiber are based upon the intake levels known to prevent against 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 disease1,2. Currently, Americans consume more than 13% of their total calories from added sugars (Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\)). The Nutrition Facts Panel includes information on added sugars which can be used to identify foods and beverages that have a high amount of added sugars.

    fig-ch01_patchfile_01.jpg
    Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\): Sources of Added Sugar in the Diet

    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 Intakes (AI) for fiber are 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.