Carbohydrate Food Sources and Guidelines for Intake

Where do we find carbohydrates in foods?

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! This section will review which food groups contain the different types of carbohydrates. 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.

The MyPlate image that illustrates the USDA food groups, and what proportions they should contribute; half the plate is fruit and vegetables and the other half grains and protein. There is also a side of dairy.

Figure 3.1 - Choose MyPlate graphic illustrating the USDA food groups: fruits, vegetables, grains, protein and dairy.

Fruits- Fruits are sweet, so we know they must contain sugar. Fruits contain sucrose, glucose, and fructose. This sugar is naturally-occurring and comes packaged with other great nutrients, like Vitamin C and potassium. Whole fruit also contains fiber, since fiber is found in all whole plant foods. Juice has little to no fiber, even high pulp orange juice.

Vegetables- Some vegetables are sweet and also contain sugar, although much less than fruit. 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 fruit, any whole vegetable also contains fiber.  

Dairy- This is the one animal food that contains carbohydrate. Milk, cheese, and yogurt contain naturally-occurring lactose. If dairy (like yogurt) is sweetened, then it will also contain added sugar like sucrose (white cane sugar) or fructose and glucose (honey and/or HFCS).

Grains- Grains naturally contain starch and fiber. Sprouted grains also contain maltose. If grains are sweetened (sugar is added), they might contain  sucrose (white cane sugar) or fructose and glucose (honey and/or HFCS).

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 below:


Table 3.1 USDA food groups with examples of foods and type of carbohydrate present within each food group.

Food Group

Example of Food

Type of Carbohydrate 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



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 choices one has, leaving you primarily with low carbohydrate veggies and meats. Not surprisingly, people usually consume less calories with this way of eating.  However, for most people, this is not a sustainable or enjoyable way of eating, and it can also be 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 2015 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 that someone eating a 2,000 Calorie diet would want to 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 lesson.

Below is a chart summarizing the above recommendations.


Table 3.2 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


Self Check

Which of the following food(s) contain(s) carbohydrate? (select all that apply)

[mark all correct answers]


If you were to cut out all carbohydrates in your diet, you could still eat a balanced diet with a variety of foods.



Most Americans meet their daily recommendation of fiber.



Each day, Joel consumes 2500 Calories, including 250 g of carbohydrate.

True or False: Joel is meeting the RDA for carbohydrates.



Each day, Joel consumes 2500 Calories, including 250 g of carbohydrate. True or False: Joel is meeting the AMDR for carbohydrates.



  1. US Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Agriculture. 2015. Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

  2. Institute of Medicine, Food and Nutrition Board, 2005. Dietary Reference Intakes for Energy, Carbohydrate, Fiber, Fat, Fatty Acids, Cholesterol, Protein, and Amino Acids (Macronutrients). Washington, DC; The National Academy of Sciences.

Image Credits

  1. MyPlate image from, public domain.