Unit 4 – Carbohydrates

4.3 Carbohydrate Intake Recommendations

What Foods Provide Carbohydrates?

Looking at the food groups represented in MyPlate below, which food groups do you think contain carbohydrates? If you answered, all of them, you’re correct!  One of the goals of this course is to learn more about the different nutrients in foods and to understand the importance of eating a wide variety of foods from the different food groups.


Figure 4.10. Choose MyPlate graphic illustrating the USDA food groups: fruits, vegetables, grains, protein and dairy.

Fruits– Most fruits are sweet, so we know they must contain some type of sugars.  In fact, fruits contain a combination of  sucrose, glucose, and fructose. They also come packaged with other great nutrients, like Vitamin C and potassium. Whole fruits also contain fiber whereas juices have little to no fiber, even high pulp orange juice are low in fiber. So select whole fruits instead of juice.

Vegetables– Some vegetables are sweet and also contain sugar, although much less than fruits. Similar to fruits, some vegetables (like carrots and green beans) contain small amounts of sucrose, glucose, and fructose. Starchy vegetables (corn, peas, and potatoes, for example) primarily contain starch but some are also sweet and contain sucrose, glucose, and fructose (sweet potatoes and sweet corn, for example). Just like whole fruits, any whole vegetables also contains fiber.

Grains– Grains naturally contain starch and fiber. Sprouted grains also contain maltose. If grains are sweetened with an added sugar,  they might contain sucrose, if white cane sugar was used,  or fructose and glucose high fructose corn syrup was added.

Dairy- This is the one animal food that contains carbohydrate. Milk and yogurt contain significant amounts of  naturally-occurring lactose.  Processing reduces much of the lactose in most cheeses.  If dairy products (like yogurt and flavored milk ) are sweetened, then it will also contain added sugar.

Protein– Meats do not contain carbohydrate, but many plant foods that fall into the protein group, like beans and nuts, contain starch and fiber.

Fats– Concentrated fats like butter and oil do not contain carbohydrate.

This information is summarized in the Table 4.1.

Table 4.1. USDA food groups with examples of foods and type of carbohydrate in each food group.

Food Group

Examples of Food

Types of Carbohydrates Present


Apple, orange, banana

Orange juice

Sucrose, glucose, fructose, and fiber

Sucrose, glucose, fructose


Non-starchy veggies

Starchy veggies (corn, potatoes, sweet potatoes, peas)

Sucrose, glucose, fructose, and fiber

Starch and fiber, with varying amount of sucrose, glucose, and fructose


Milk, plain yogurt, cheese



Wheat, rice, oatmeal, barley

Sprouted grains

Starch and fiber

Starch, fiber, and maltose



Beans and nuts


Starch and fiber


Oils, Butter


Looking at all the foods that contain carbohydrates, you might be able to guess why eliminating carbohydrates from the diet can lead to weight loss. It drastically reduces the variety of  food choices, leaving you primarily with low carbohydrate veggies and meats. Not surprisingly, people usually consume less calories when following a “low carb” diet. However, for most people, this is not a sustainable or enjoyable way of eating, and it is hard to consume a nutritionally balanced diet with so many foods off-limits.

Carbohydrate Guidelines for Intake

Total Carbohydrate Intake

The recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for total carbohydrate intake is 130 grams. This is the minimum amount of glucose utilized by the brain, so if you consume less than this, you will probably go into ketosis. In order to meet the body’s high energy demand for glucose, the acceptable macronutrient distribution range (AMDR) for an adult is 45%-65% of total calories. This is about 225 grams to 325 grams of carbohydrate per day if eating a 2,000 Calorie diet. (REMEMBER: 1 gram of carbohydrate contains 4 calories.)

Fiber Intake

The Adequate Intake (AI) for fiber is 14 grams of fiber for every 1,000 calories consumed. This is about 28 grams for an adult female (19-30 years old) and 38 grams for an adult male (19-30 years old). Most people in the United States only get half the amount of fiber they need in a day—about 12 to 18 grams.

Added Sugar Intake

The 2020 Dietary Guidelines recommend that less than 10% of total calories come from added sugars because of its link to obesity and chronic disease. This means those eating a 2,000 calorie diet should limit their added sugar intake to about 12 teaspoons per day. To put that in perspective, a 12 oz, can of soda has about 10 teaspoons of sugar. We will discuss added sugar in more detail later in the unit. Table 4.2 summarizes  these recommendations.

Table 4.2 Dietary Recommendations for Carbohydrates


RDA for Total Carbohydrate

130 grams

AMDR for Total Carbohydrate

45% – 65% of total calories

AI for Fiber

14 grams for every 1,000 calories consumed

Dietary guidelines for added sugar

Less than 10% of total calories

DID YOU KNOW: Fruits vary in their carbohydrate content. All fruits, except avocados, have minimal amounts of protein and virtually no fat. Use the table below to see which fruits are highest in fructose and natural sucrose and the one fruit that has virtually no sugars. 

Fruit Calories Total Carb Sugars Sucrose Fructose Starch Fiber Fat Protein
Clementine (1 sm) 35 9 7 4 1 0 1.2 0.1 0.6
Banana (1 med) 105 27 14 3 6 6 3 0.4 1.3
Avocado, California (1) 227 12 0.4 0 0.1 0.2 9.3 21 2.7
Orange, navel (1 med) 73 17 12 6 3 0 3 0.2 1
Grapes (1 c) 104 27 19 0.2 11 0 1.4 <0.1 <0.1
Blueberries (1 c) 84 22 15 0.7 7 0 3.5 0.5 1
Peach (1 med) 59 14 13 7 2 0 2.2 0.4 1.4
Watermelon (1 c) 46 12 9 2 5 0 1 0.2 1
Pineapple (1 c) 83 22 16 10 3 0 2 0.2 0.9
Cantaloupe (1 c) 54 12 13 7 3 0 1.4 0.3 1.3
Pear (1 med) 101 27 17 1 11 0 5.5 0.2 0.6
Strawberries (1 c) 53 13 8 7 4 0 3.3 0.5 1.1
Apple (med) 95 11 19 4 11 1 4.4 0.3 0.5


Self-Review Questions


  • U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2020). Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025, 9th Edition. Retrieved from https://www.dietaryguidelines.gov/
  • Institute of Medicine, Food and Nutrition Board. (2005). Dietary Reference Intakes for Energy, Carbohydrate, Fiber, Fat, Fatty Acids, Cholesterol, Protein, and Amino Acids (Macronutrients). Retrieved from https://www.nap.edu/read/10490/chapter/1


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