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What Is the Recommended Daily Carbohydrate Intake?

By Shelby Miller
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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The recommended daily carbohydrate intake refers to the percentage of a person’s daily calories that should be supplied by carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are the body’s most immediate energy source and include simple sugars like those found in fruits and sweets, and complex carbohydrates, chains of sugars found in starches like potatoes, pasta, and rice. The current recommended dietary allowance (RDA) in the United States, which is a standardized minimum requirement to meet a healthy person’s needs of a particular nutrient, is 130 grams of carbohydrate for adult men and women. Most nutrition experts, however, list a recommended daily carbohydrate intake of up to 60 percent of total calories, or 1,200 calories of carbohydrates in a 2,000-calorie diet. This number may vary, however, depending on whether the individual is an adult or child, is pregnant or breastfeeding, is an athlete, or is trying to lose weight.

As the most available source of fuel, carbohydrates are abundant throughout the body. Carbohydrates are crucial to muscle tissue, the brain, the nervous system, and liver. In the bloodstream it is glucose, or blood sugar.

To maintain this supply, which fuels everything from the muscles during exercise to brain function when taking a test, the recommended daily carbohydrate intake is greater than that of the other two calorie-supplying nutrients, fat and protein. At four calories per gram, carbohydrates should account for anywhere from 45-65 percent of total calories, with recommendations for dietary fat ranging from 20-35 percent and protein ranging from 10-20 percent. For example, a person who is advised to consume a 2,000-calorie-a-day diet may get 1,200 of his calories or 300 grams from carbs, 560 calories from fat, and 240 calories from protein.

Not to be confused with recommended daily carbohydrate intake, RDA is determined by the National Academy of Sciences in the United States, specifically by their Institute of Medicine (IOM). According to a 2003 definition from the IOM, RDA is defined as “the dietary intake level that is sufficient to meet the nutrient requirement of nearly all (97 to 98 percent) healthy individuals in a particularly life stage and gender group.”

In other words, the RDA is a number that in the absence of specific health concerns should apply to most people in a given population as the amount needed to meet minimum nutrient needs. As a minimum, therefore, it is not necessarily reflective of how many total calories from carbs, fat, and protein an individual actually requires — simply the number of grams a person needs to meet those minimum requirements. In fact, the RDA for carbohydrates is listed for adult men and women as only 130 grams, or 520 calories, which is the minimum amount required for the body, specifically the brain, to function properly.

As for total energy needs, with caloric requirements ranging from 1,200 in some smaller adult women to upwards of 5,000 in many athletes, the recommended daily carbohydrate intake for an individual varies so widely that it is taken as a percentage of one’s total calories rather than as a set number of grams per day. Factors influencing one’s recommended daily carbohydrate intake are wide-ranging and include age, weight, athletic demands, and whether the person is pregnant or breastfeeding. Individuals with higher energy needs, such as children and athletes, may do well on a diet with a relatively high percentage of calories coming from carbohydrates — as much as 60-65 percent. Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding require more grams of carbohydrates than they otherwise would, but this is only because their total calorie needs have increased. For those looking to lose weight, some nutrition experts recommend reducing carbohydrate intake to 45-50 percent of total calories as well as reducing overall calorie intake.

Common Sources of Carbohydrates 

Whether you’re trying to eat more or fewer carbs, knowing the most common sources of carbohydrates can make it easier to manage your intake. 

Here are a few sources of carbohydrates: 

  • Fruit 
  • Potatoes 
  • Beans 
  • Bread
  • Pasta 
  • Crackers 
  • Sugar 
  • Certain vegetables such as carrots or pumpkin 
  • Corn 
  • Baked goods 
  • Milk 
  • Sugary snacks such as ice cream or candy 

It is safe to say that you can find carbohydrates in a wide variety of food. Whether it’s natural “healthy” foods or processed “junk” foods, the sources of this essential nutrient are endless. Finding the right balance is the key to maintaining a healthy intake of carbohydrates. 

Keeping a Balanced Diet 

Many people believe that carbohydrates are inherently bad or that eating carbs cause weight gain. As a result, people may feel they need to eliminate carbs from their diets. However, this is not necessary. Carbs are an essential nutrient that gives our bodies energy. 

Getting your carbohydrates from nutritious foods is the key. Instead of relying on nutritionally empty foods such as candy or baked goods, try to get most of your intake from natural sources like beans or fruit, which are high in protein and vitamins. 

Carbohydrates only cause weight gain when they are eaten in excess. This is especially true for people who eat too many foods that are high in sugar and starches. However, if you stick to a varied, nutritious diet and reduce your sugar intake, you will have a much easier time losing weight. 

Overall, finding the right balance is the key. You can fill your diet with a wide variety of foods to ensure you are getting the nutrition you need. You can also determine how many carbohydrates you need based on your age, weight, and health status. Knowing how much your body needs can help you avoid eating too many carbohydrates. 

Low-Carb Diets: Their Risks and Benefits 

Low-carb diets have become a popular way to lose weight. But just like with any other diet, you should weigh the risks and benefits before starting one. These diets may not be effective for people who have certain health risks. 

There are a lot of negative outcomes that can happen with low-carb diets. For example, many people on low-carb diets are at a high risk of constipation. This is because most sources of fiber are also high in carbohydrates. Some people on low-carb diets report headaches, bad breath, and fatigue as well. 

Low-carb diets may have long-term risks as well. Because these diets often center around high-fat foods, they can sometimes increase your risk of heart disease. Some evidence also suggests that restrictive diets like the keto diet can increase the likelihood of developing an eating disorder

However, low-carb diets can come with benefits as well. Some studies suggest they have benefits forpeople with type 2 diabetes. Many people also report that low-carb diets show faster weight loss results than other types of diets. 

Whether a low-carb diet is right for you will vary depending on your health and experiences. If you are uncertain whether you should try a low-carb diet, you may want to seek advice from a dietitian. 

Different Kinds of Carbohydrates 

There are three different types of carbohydrates: sugars, starches, and fiber. Each of these carbohydrate types serves a unique purpose in your diet. 

Sugar comes in several different types. Fructose, for instance, is a natural sugar you can find in fruit. Sucrose and glucose are two additional types of sugar that you can typically find in processed foods such as candy or baked goods. Unlike other carbohydrates, sugars are not a necessary part of your diet. But as long as you eat them in moderation, they will not cause any health issues. 

Starch, on the other hand, is an essential carbohydrate. Your body converts the starches you eat into glucose, which then becomes energy. Sources of starch include potatoes, beans, and oats. 

Finally, the last of the three types of carbohydrates is fiber. Fiber is the most important carbohydrate because it aids your digestive system. Without enough fiber, people can become constipated and be at risk for colon cancer. A few sources of fiber include beans, oats, and vegetables.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Discussion Comments
By Markerrag — On Mar 10, 2014

Often, the amount of carbs one should take in daily has a lot to do with the individual. People who are on medically supervised diets often have that recommended intake set by a doctor.

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