A diet is highly personal. One person may feel healthier when they regularly enjoy the benefits of sweet potatoes, brown bread, and brown rice…while another feels better with clean, lean vegetables and proteins. Some modern diets, such as the Atkins diet and the ketogenic (keto) diet, promote weight loss by limiting carbohydrates, which can shift the body into a state of “ketogenesis,” a period in which the body uses fat as an energy source. instead of carbohydrates.
Most licensed nutrition experts will issue a warning about going to any extremes with nutrition. The buzz about restricting carbohydrates, in particular, worries some because when you remove foods like grains, you’re also stripping away one of the body’s main sources of energy…and some solid nutrients. When that becomes problematic, signs you’re not eating enough carbohydrates can include headaches, constipation, fatigue, poor athletic performance, and more.
So how many grams of carbohydrates do you really need in a day? We’ve looked at a few key sources for the answer.
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What are Carbohydrates?
“Carbohydrates are the body’s primary source of energy,” says registered dietitian Maggie Michalczyk, RDN, who also describes carbohydrates as “the primary fuel for the brain and cells.” This nutrition expert continues, “Having adequate amounts of carbohydrates is essential to maintain mental clarity, alertness, and many other critical bodily functions, including proper digestion, immunity, energy, and growth.”
The United States Department of Agriculture Dietary guidelines for Americans recommends that 45% to 65% of your daily calories come from carbohydrates. To understand exactly how that percentage adds up in terms of what you eat in a day, keep in mind that calorie intake will vary from person to person, but, for the average 2,000-calorie diet, this would equate to about 900 to 1,300 calories per day. day from carbohydrates.
One gram of carbohydrate contains four calories, so if you count your macros, that would equate to about 225-325 grams of carbohydrates per day. However, this is not a red light for eating a huge portion of pasta. According to Michalczyk, carbohydrate intake should focus more complex carbohydrates.
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What are complex carbohydrates?
You’ve probably heard that there are different types of carbohydrates: simple carbohydrates and complex carbohydrates. Here’s a refresher on which carbs are “good” and which ones you should consider more of an occasional treat.
“Simple carbohydrates are more refined and processed, which makes them less nutrient-dense,” says Michalczyk. Simple carbohydrate foods include white pasta, breads, and packaged snack foods. “They’re referred to as ‘plain’ because they’re easily digested and absorbed, which can also raise blood sugar faster, causing it to spike and crash.”
Complex carbohydrates, on the other hand, help slow the blood sugar spike and help you feel fuller longer. “Complex carbohydrates provide more sustainable energy and nutrients,” explains Michalczyk. “They also contain fiber, which helps them be digested more slowly, preventing a blood sugar spike.”
Michalczyk suggests that you can easily eat enough fiber if you add more sources of complex carbohydrates to your diet. Get more details: Here’s how much fiber you really need in a day
What are net carbs?
Because fiber is an indigestible carbohydrate, it doesn’t really break down in your system. Instead, fiber moves through your system, simultaneously benefiting gut health, digestive health, and colon health.
This means that complex carbohydrates, which tend to have a high amount of dietary fiber, would also have a total net carbohydrate count. Net carbs are the total amount of carbs you consume when you subtract the grams of fiber from your overall carb count. For example, if a slice of whole-grain bread has 20 grams of carbs but five grams of fiber, that would mean the net carb count is 15 grams for that slice.
If you’re getting enough fiber in your diet, your net carb count is something that typically shouldn’t be a concern. Net carb counting tends to be important for low-carb diets, such as keto, which save 20 grams of net carbs per day or less. Any diet with fewer than 130 grams of carbohydrates (or less than 26% of daily calories) would be considered “low-carb.”
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What types of foods contain complex carbohydrates?
If you’re looking to add healthy sources of complex carbohydrates to your diet, Michalczyk shared a list:
- Whole grains: Brown rice, quinoa, wholemeal bread and oats
- Legumes: lentils, chickpeas, black beans, peas
- Vegetables: sweet potatoes, squash, broccoli
- Fruit: apples, bananas and berries