In recent years, carbohydrates have gotten a bad reputation, but they are an essential part of your diet. Your body uses carbohydrates for immediate energy, or stores them for later energy use. Foods contain simple or complex carbohydrates. Choose your carbohydrates wisely and follow the USDA daily serving recommendations to stay healthy and reduce your risk of chronic disease.
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According to the 2010 USDA Dietary Guidelines for Americans, between 45 and 65 percent of daily calories for all age groups should come from carbohydrates. The total amount of calories you need each day depends upon your age, gender, height, weight and physical activity level. Adult women typically need between 1,600 and 2,400 calories per day, while adult men require between 2,000 and 3,000 calories per day. If you are sedentary, your needs are likely toward the lower end of the range. Children require anywhere between 1,000 and 2,000 calories per day, while adolescents require anywhere from 1,400 to 3,200 calories a day with boys generally needing more. Carbohydrates have 4 calories per gram. A person following a 2,000-calorie diet would need 225 to 325 grams of carbohydrates per day. For a 1,500-calorie diet, she would need between 170 and 245 grams per day.
Dietary fiber and starch are complex carbohydrates. You find starch in some vegetables, such as potatoes, greens beans and peas, and grain products, including bread, pasta and rice. Dietary fiber is in the form of soluble or insoluble fiber. Both are an important part of your diet, so opt for foods from both fiber sources. Oatmeal, nuts, most fruits and beans contain soluble fiber. Whole-wheat products, couscous, bulgur and the majority of fruits and vegetables contain insoluble fiber. The USDA recommends you eat 14 grams of fiber for every 1,000 calories you need. Choose fresh fruits and vegetables more often. Eat dried beans instead of meat once a week for dinner. Opt for whole-grain breads, pastas and rice.
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Simple carbohydrates are sugars found naturally in some foods and added to others through processing or refining. Fruits, vegetables and milk contain natural sugars. You can determine foods with added sugars if the food label lists ingredients such as brown sugar, honey, corn syrup, molasses, malt syrup, sugar or fruit juice concentrates. Foods with added sugars typically have fewer nutrients and more calories than foods with naturally occurring sugars. Decrease your consumption of added sugar by choosing water instead of juice or soda, eat fruit for dessert and avoid sugary breakfast cereals. The 2010 USDA Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends reducing calories from solid fats and added sugars, or SoFAS, to no more than 5 to 15 percent of your daily calories.
Select carbohydrates wisely to benefit the most from this energy source. Choose fresh fruits and vegetables. The USDA recommends 2 to 2 ½ cups of both fruits and vegetables per day for a 2,000-calorie diet. Opt for whole grains over refined grains. You need between 6 and 8 ounces of grains per day and half of those should be whole grains. Eat nuts, seeds and legumes 4 to 5 times per week. Avoid added sugars, which are high in calories with little nutrients making it difficult to get your essential nutrients without gaining weight. Choose foods that contain 5 percent or less of the daily value of sugar. Through careful selection of carbohydrates, you can promote your health and prevent disease.
Michelle Fisk began writing professionally in 2011. She has been published in the "Physician and Sports Medicine Journal." Her expertise lies in the fields of exercise physiology and nutrition. Fisk holds a Master of Science in kinesiology from Marywood University.