Carbohydrates are part of a healthful diet. The AMDR for carbohydrates is 45 to 65 percent of total calories. Diets rich in dietary fiber have been shown to have a number of beneficial effects, including decreased risk of coronary heart disease and improvement in laxation.
There is also interest in the potential relationship between diets containing fiber rich foods and lower risk of type 2 diabetes. Sugars and starches supply energy to the body in the form of glucose, which is the only energy source for red blood cells and is the preferred energy source for the brain, central nervous system, placenta, and fetus. Sugars can be naturally present in foods (such as the fructose in fruit or the lactose in milk) or added to the food. Added sugars, also known as caloric sweeteners, are sugars and syrups that are added to foods at the table or during processing or preparation (such as high fructose corn syrup in sweetened beverages and baked products). Although the body's response to sugars does not depend on whether they are naturally present in a food or added to the food, added sugars supply calories but few or no nutrients.
Choose Carbohydrates Wisely
Consequently, it is important to choose carbohydrates wisely. Foods in the basic food groups that provide carbohydrates -- fruits, vegetables, grains, and milk -- are important sources of many nutrients. Choosing plenty of these foods, within the context of a calorie controlled diet, can promote health and reduce chronic disease risk. However, the greater the consumption of foods containing large amounts of added sugars, the more difficult it is to consume enough nutrients without gaining weight. Consumption of added sugars provides calories while providing little, if any, of the essential nutrients.
- Choose fiber-rich fruits, vegetables, and whole grains often.
- Choose and prepare foods and beverages with little added sugars or caloric sweeteners, such as amounts suggested by the USDA Food Guide and the The Dash Diet Weight Loss Solution.
- Reduce the incidence of dental caries by practicing good oral hygiene and consuming sugar- and starch containing foods and beverages less frequently.
The recommended dietary fiber intake is 14 grams per 1,000 calories consumed. Initially, some Americans will find it challenging to achieve this level of intake. However, making fiber rich food choices more often will move people toward this goal and is likely to confer significant health benefits.
The majority of servings from the fruit group should come from whole fruit (fresh, frozen, canned, dried) rather than juice. Increasing the proportion of fruit that is eaten in the form of whole fruit rather than juice is desirable to increase fiber intake. However, inclusion of some juice, such as orange juice, can help meet recommended levels of potassium intake.
Legumes -- such as dry beans and peas -- are especially rich in fiber and should be consumed several times per week. They are considered part of both the vegetable group and the meat and beans group as they contain nutrients found in each of these food groups.
Consuming at least half the recommended grain servings as whole grains is important, for all ages, at each calorie level, to meet the fiber recommendation. Consuming at least 3 ounce-equivalents of whole grains per day can reduce the risk of coronary heart disease, may help with weight maintenance, and may lower risk for other chronic diseases. Thus, at lower calorie levels, adults should consume more than half (specifically, at least 3 ounce-equivalents) of whole grains per day, by substituting whole grains for refined grains.
Individuals who consume food or beverages high in added sugars tend to consume more calories than those who consume food or beverages low in added sugars; they also tend to consume lower amounts of micronutrients. Although more research is needed, available prospective studies show a positive association between the consumption of calorically sweetened beverages and weight gain. For this reason, decreased intake of such foods, especially beverages with caloric sweeteners, is recommended to reduce calorie intake and help achieve recommended nutrient intakes and weight control.
In some cases, small amounts of sugars added to nutrient-dense foods, such as breakfast cereals and reduced-fat milk products, may increase a person's intake of such foods by enhancing the palatability of these products, thus improving nutrient intake without contributing excessive calories.
Carbohydrates in Children
Carbohydrate intakes of children need special considerations with regard to obtaining sufficient amounts of fiber, avoiding excessive amounts of calories from added sugars, and preventing dental caries. Several cross-sectional surveys on U.S. children and adolescents have found inadequate dietary fiber intakes, which could be improved by increasing consumption of whole fruits, vegetables, and whole grain products.
Sugars can improve the palatability of foods and beverages that otherwise might not be consumed. This may explain why the consumption of sweetened dairy foods and beverages and presweetened cereals is positively associated with childrens' and adolescents' nutrient intake. However, beverages with caloric sweeteners, sugars and sweets, and other sweetened foods that provide little or no nutrients are negatively associated with diet quality and can contribute to excessive energy intakes, affirming the importance of reducing added sugar intake substantially from current levels.
Carbohydrates and Food Labels
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced that it would set guidelines for how many carbohydrates are allowed in foods advertised as low or reduced-carb. It seems the way in which carbohydrates are counted varies widely among manufacturers. Items currently labeled as having no carbs or reduced carbs may actually have just one gram less than their full-carb counterparts. And products containing the sugar substitute maltitol often do not include this ingredient in their total carb content -- a practice the FDA insists is misleading. The Grocery Manufacturers of America, which represents most major food brands, is lobbying the FDA to define low-carb as nine grams of carbohydrates per 100 grams of food (a typical serving size).
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