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No matter what fad diet you're tempted to follow, the only way to stay healthy and active for the long term is to follow the standard advice: Eat a balanced diet and get just the right number of calories. Carbohydrates form the backbone of a healthy diet plan. They supply sugar that your brain, muscles and every cell in your body use for fuel. They also provide fiber, which lowers your risk of cardiovascular disease.
Women should consume 130 grams of total carbohydrates daily, which includes all three types of carbs: sugar, starch and fiber. It’s easiest to aim for the specific goal of 130 grams, but you can also use the Acceptable Macronutrient Distribution Range as a guideline. The AMDR recommends getting 45 percent to 65 percent of your total daily calories from carbohydrates. If you eat more carbohydrates than the recommended amount, your diet may not be balanced. Eating too many carbs may mean that you’re not getting enough protein and fat in your diet.
While your fiber intake is included as part of your total carbohydrate intake, this nutrient fills so many vital roles that it has a separate recommendation. In fact, the adequate intake for fiber -- 25 grams daily for women -- is based on the amount you need to protect against coronary heart disease, according to the USDA National Agricultural Library. Soluble fiber binds with cholesterol and carries it out of your body, thereby lowering total levels of cholesterol. It can also help you lose weight because it keeps blood sugar balanced and makes you feel full. The other type of fiber -- insoluble -- keeps your digestive tract healthy and prevents constipation.
When extra sugar is added to food, you get calories without the benefit of nutrients. Natural sugar in whole foods, such as fruits, vegetables and whole grains, comes as part of a healthy package that also provides fiber, vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients. Without fiber to moderate its access to your blood stream, added sugar rushes into your blood. Your body needs to remove the excess sugar and in that process, chances are good that the added sugar will be turned into fat rather than used for energy. The American Heart Association recommends that women limit added sugar to no more than 6 teaspoons daily.
Healthy carbs from whole grains, fruits, vegetables and beans provide simple sugar for quick energy, as well as complex carbohydrates -- starches -- that are burned more slowly for long-term energy. They’re also good sources of fiber, vitamins and minerals. Make sure that at least half of the grains you eat are whole grains because you won’t get any fiber unless you eat the whole grain. The best sources of fiber are beans, while some of the top choices for soluble fiber include bran, oats, beans, broccoli, brussels sprouts, carrots, green peas, apples, oranges and pears.
- USDA National Agricultural Library: Dietary, Functional, and Total Fiber
- Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service: Dietary Fiber
- American Heart Association: Sugar and Carbohydrates
- Harvard University Health Services: Fiber Content of Foods in Common Portions
- Colorado State University: Physiologic Effects of Insulin
- Iowa State University: Role of Carbohydrates
- Kansas State University: Healthful Whole Grains
- Tetiana Vitsenko/iStock/Getty Images