“Carbs,” also known as carbohydrates, are one of the macronutrients, which are the compounds that give your body energy in the form of calories. Foods with carbs are digested into sugar, which provides your body with glucose, an important source of energy. Your body requires carbohydrates to function properly.
There are two main types of carbs: complex and simple. Complex carbohydrates are those that are less processed, more slowly digested, and high in dietary fiber. Simple carbohydrates are those that are more quickly digested. They are often added to processed and prepared foods in the form of refined sugars and processed sweeteners.
Some sources of carbohydrates are healthier than others. Learn how many carbs you need and which carbs to stay away from.
Depending on your age, sex, activity level, and overall health, your carbohydrate requirements will vary. According to the Mayo Clinic, 45 to 65 percent of your daily calories should come from carbohydrates. That’s equal to about 225 to 325 grams of carbs if you eat 2,000 calories a day.
Draw an imaginary vertical line down the middle of your plate. Then draw a horizontal line across one half, so your plate is divided into three sections.
Fill one of the small sections with starchy vegetables, such as potatoes or winter squash, or grains, such as whole grain pasta or brown rice. Legumes, such as black peas or pinto beans, are also great options.
Fill the other small section with protein. For example, you might choose low-fat options, such as skinless chicken or turkey, salmon or catfish, or lean cuts of beef.
When you’re filling a small portion of your plate with grains or starchy vegetables, choose high-fiber, unprocessed options with little to no added sugar and fat. Starchy vegetables and whole grains are rich sources of minerals, vitamins, and fiber.
Fiber has many health benefits. According to the Mayo Clinic, a high-fiber diet can help prevent constipation, lower cholesterol, regulate blood sugar, and reduce your risk of heart disease and diabetes. If you’re 50 years old or younger, you should eat about 38 grams of fiber per day if you’re a man and 25 grams if you’re a woman. If you’re over the age of 50, you should eat about 30 grams per day if you’re a man and 21 grams if you’re a woman.
Look for breads, crackers, pastas, and other products that list whole grains as their first ingredient. Check the nutrition label; foods that have 3–5 grams of fiber or more are good high-fiber options. You can also serve steamed or boiled whole grains, such as brown rice, wild rice, buckwheat, millet, quinoa, and oats.
It’s good to get your carbohydrate intake from complex carbohydrates, such as starch and fiber, as well as from natural sugars like fresh fruits and some vegetables.
You should avoid refined and added sugars as much as possible. These foods provide “empty” calories, which means they’re high in calories but low in nutrients. Foods with added sugars tend to have fewer nutrients than foods with naturally occurring sugars.
Eating the right types of carbs in the right amounts may seem easier said than done, but there are some simple guidelines you can follow to stay on the right track:
Eat whole grain breads, pastas, crackers, and cereals, rather than refined grain alternatives. Brown rice, whole barley, and oatmeal are also good whole grain choices.
Replace white flour products such as white pastas and breads with whole wheat options, or choose less processed high-fiber grains as listed above.
It’s best to follow a diet plan that focuses on healthy eating overall, rather than just restricting your carbs. Low-carb diets may promise to help you lose weight, but some of them can leave you nutritionally deficient. It’s always best to consult with your doctor or dietitian before you choose a weight-loss diet plan or change your eating habits. Your health team can help you learn how to get the right kind of carbs in your diet, while cutting empty calories.