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Recommended Intake of Simple Carbohydrates

By Pam Murphy

Carbohydrates account for the largest percentage of calories in the typical American diet. Although you may think first of grains, fruits and vegetables as carbohydrates, other foods such as milk and nuts also provide carbs. Starch, fiber and sugar are the primary types of carbohydrates and these types may be further categorized as either complex or simple. Foods with one or two sugars are generally classified as simple carbohydrates.


Carbohydrates with three or more linked sugars include starches and fiber, which are categorized as complex carbohydrates. Simple carbohydrates – or those with single or double sugar molecules – include fructose in fruit, galactose in milk, maltose in some types of vegetables, lactose in dairy products and table sugar, or sucrose. Some foods, including fruits and vegetables, contain both simple and complex carbohydrates.

Natural Sugars

While there are recommended limits for added sugar in your diet, simple carbohydrates found naturally in foods such as milk, fruits and vegetables are part of their nutritional package, explains the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010. Limiting such foods to cut back on simple carbohydrates would rob your diet of vitamins and minerals it needs to function properly.


Although there isn't an official recommended intake of simple carbohydrates, the suggested intake for carbohydrates in general is 45 percent to 65 percent of overall calories. You can incorporate an appropriate amount of simple carbohydrates into your diet by considering dietary recommendations for foods that naturally contain sugars. The U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends that adults consume 1 1/2 to 2 cups of fruit daily, for example. Adults are also encouraged to get the equivalent of 3 cups of dairy daily, as well as 2 to 3 cups of vegetables.

Added Sugars

Sugar added to foods provides additional calories without improving the nutritional content. As a result, the USDA recommends that you limit added sugar. This includes any sugar you add to beverages or foods at home, as well as that added to packaged foods during processing. USDA food patterns typically allocate only 5 percent to 15 percent of overall calories as discretionary calories, which may be used to accommodate solid fats and added sugars. The American Heart Association suggests that women limit added sugar intake to 100 calories and men to 150 calories.

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