How Many Carbs Should You Eat a Day?

Carbs have a big impact on blood glucose levels. So, what is the right amount of carbs to eat? While the answer is different for everyone, this guide will provide a helpful starting point.

Carb Counting Basics

Of all the nutrients you take in each day, nothing affects your blood glucose more than carbohydrates. But that doesn't mean carbs are bad for you. Carbohydrates are the body's main source of fuel, so you must eat foods with carbohydrates to function. However, you should watch how many grams of carbohydrate you eat. Everyone has different carb needs:

  • men vs. women
  • active vs. sedentary people
  • people who want to lose weight vs. people who want to maintain weight

So, where do you begin? First, identify which slide fits your needs based on your gender, lifestyle, and weight loss goals. Then, practice carb counting. By keeping track of the amount of carbohydrate (grams or number of carb choices) in your meal plan, you can achieve better control of your blood glucose.

The ranges given -- for a variety of lifestyles -- on the following slides are based on a three-meals-per-day plan, with a snack if you should need it. While everyone is different, these numbers are a great place to start. For a personalized meal plan, talk with a registered dietitian.

Carb Choices Grams of Carbohydrate
0 0-5 g
1/2 6-10 g
1 11-20 g
1-1/2 21-25 g
2 26-35 g
2-1/2 36-40 g
3 41-50 g
3-1/2 51-55 g
4 56-65 g
4-1/2 66-70 g
5 71-80 g

You can count carbohydrate by choices or grams. One carb choice is a serving of food that contains 15 grams of carbohydrate. To help, use the conversion chart above.

All of the carbohydrate ranges on the following slides were recommended by Type 2 Diabetes Basics (International Diabetes Center, 2004), Gestational Diabetes Basics (International Diabetes Center, 2005), and Donna Kernodle, R.D., M.P.H., CDE with the Diabetes Care Center at Wake Forest University’s Baptist Medical Center.

A Woman Who Wants to Lose Weight

The recommended carb range:
2-3.5 carb choices per meal
(30-55 g carbs per meal)

If you feel like you need a snack between meals, choose one that has less than 7-10 grams of carbohydrate per serving.

Carb Tip: Go for the carbs from fruits and veggies first. "For people who are wanting to lose weight, it's important to look at the balance between all of their nutrients. All carbs are not created equally, but carbs from whole foods such as fruit are much better choices than those from highly processed foods," says Donna Kernodle, R.D., M.P.H., CDE with the Diabetes Care Center at Wake Forest University's Baptist Medical Center.

Try these tasty low-carb meal recipes.

A Man Who Wants to Lose Weight

The recommended carb range:
3-4 carb choices per meal
(50-65 g carbs per meal)

If you feel like you need a snack between meals, choose one that has less than 7-10 grams of carbohydrate per serving.

Carb Tip: Drink calorie- and carb-free fluids when you're feeling hungry. "A lot of people mistake hunger for thirst," Kernodle says. Most people aren't keeping themselves adequately hydrated, causing a sense of hunger when they're actually thirsty.

These weight loss tips will keep you motivated.

A Woman Who Wants to Maintain Weight

The recommended carb range:
3-4 carb choices per meal
(45-60 g carbs per meal)

If you feel like you need a snack between meals, choose one that has less than 7-10 grams of carbohydrate per serving.

Carb Tip: Don't skip a meal. "When you miss a meal, you don't forget about missing that meal," Kernodle says. "You tend to then overeat at the next meal. If we spread meals out, we tend to be able to manage weight more efficiently."

A Man Who Wants to Maintain Weight

The recommended carb range:
4-5 carb choices per meal
(60-75 g carbs per meal)

If you feel like you need a snack between meals, choose one that has less than 7-10 grams of carbohydrate per serving.

Carb Tip: Choose your carbs carefully. There are 4 carb choices (60 grams of carbs) in a 16-ounce bottle of a regular soft drink. That's equal to a whole meal! Instead of wasting carbs on foods and drinks that won't fill you up, grab a piece of fruit or a colorful vegetable. Chewing on these foods will give you the added fiber from their skin and the phytochemicals that boost your overall health, plus their fluid and fiber help you feel full for a longer period of time.

An Active Woman

The recommended carb range:
4-5 carb choices per meal
(56-75 g carbs per meal)

Your activity level and your metabolism rate will play a big part in your carb range. Generally speaking, the more active you are, the more calories and carbs your body needs for fuel. Still, it must be carefully balanced.

Carb Tip: Don't add too many carbs. Kernodle advises not going above 4 carb choices (65 grams of carbs) unless you have a high activity level. Talk with your dietitian to make sure that this is a healthy recommendation for you.

Try this circuit-training workout.

An Active Man

The recommended carb range:
4-6 carb choices per meal
(65-90 g carbs per meal)

When you're physically active, your muscles use insulin more effectively. This reduces Insulin resistance and helps decrease your blood glucose levels.

Carb Tip: Talk with your dietitian about your activity level. Together, you can decide on a healthy calorie and carb range for you.

Get fit with these simple moves.

A Woman with Gestational Diabetes

The recommended carb range:
2-4 carb choices per meal
(30-60 g carbs per meal)

With a 1-2 carb choice snack
(15-30 g carbs)

Your baby needs nourishment from you 24 hours a day, so it's important to spread your calorie and carb load evenly throughout the day. Your dietitian and diabetes educator can help you create a schedule for your meals and snacks that meets your specific needs. Bring a list of the medications you are taking so you and your dietitian can decide on a more accurate calorie and carb range.

Carb Tip: Many women who have gestational diabetes find that their blood glucose level is highest after breakfast. If this happens, try eating less carbohydrate and more protein in the morning.

Learn diabetes meal plan basics.

Children with Diabetes

The recommended carb range:
3-5 carb choices per meal
(45-80 g carbs per meal)

With a 1-2 carb choice snack
(15-30 g carbs)

Every child has a different range. Because they grow more rapidly than adults, kids tend to have a higher carb range that will change as they age. "It's important that children are seen routinely so that their certified diabetes educator [CDE] and dietitian can ensure that they are going through normal growth patterns," says Donna Starck, R.D., CDE.

Carb Tip: Encourage your child with diabetes to get involved with physical activity or exercise. Maintaining a healthy weight is a big factor in growing up healthfully with diabetes.

Kids and adults will love these mac and cheese recipes.

What Is Your Carb Number?

Schedule your appointment with a registered dietitian to talk about a meal plan that is best for you. "RDs have materials that explain the meal-planning method the patient wants to use, whether it's counting carbohydrate choices or grams of carbohydrate. These materials will have a spot to fill in the carbohydrate amounts for each meal and snack, if that's part of the plan," says Patti Urbanski, MEd, R.D., L.D., CDE. The materials will also have information about how much carbohydrate is in foods you usually eat.

Before you go, record what you've eaten for three or four days before your appointment. This will help you and the RD decide on a plan that fits you best. Having a personalized meal plan will be a great help to your overall health, and will make healthful eating a lot easier for you!

Find an RD or nutrition professional in your area at eatright.org

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