Healthy Living NT

What is an appropriate carbohydrate intake?

27/04/2015 Written by: Nerida Deans, Dietitian, Darwin

There has been a lot of hype in the media in recent months around the appropriate amount of carbohydrate to be eating for good health. Carbohydrate breaks down into glucose in the body, which is the sole source of fuel for cells such as red blood cells and the preferred source of fuel for kidney cells and brain cells. Other cells are able to utilise ketones (leftovers of fatty acid breakdown) as a source of fuel. The human body can make its own glucose through a process called gluconeogenesis from proteins in the liver and to a lesser extent, in the kidneys. To do this though, it breaks down its own muscle protein.

How much carbohydrate a person should be eating each day really depends on their activity levels, age and health status.

The Australian Dietary Guidelines (ADG) and the Australian and New Zealand Nutrient Reference Values recommend people consume 45-60% of their total energy (kJ) intake from carbohydrate sources. This means that for a person who requires 8700kJ to maintain their weight, they would need to be eating anywhere between 230-307g of carbohydrate per day. Carbohydrates are found in all five food groups. For example: starchy vegetables, cereals and grains, legumes, fruit, milk and yoghurt. Our food choices will determine the carbohydrate content of our diet, which will vary day-to-day, however, following the recommendations from the ADG (as below) will provide our body with the carbohydrate and other nutrients needed for good health.

  • 2 serves of fruit per day = 30-40g carbohydrate
  • 3-6 serves of breads, cereals and grains = 45-176g carbohydrate
  • 2.5 serves of dairy = 0-30g carbohydrate (depending on type of dairy eaten)
  • 2.5-3 serves of protein foods = 0-35g (higher if vegetarian and relying on legumes for protein source)
  • 5 serves of vegetables (includes starchy vegetables) = 0-75g carbohydrate

We must remember that we eat whole foods, not just single nutrients. Foods that contain carbohydrate can also contain protein, fats, fibre and nutrients without which, our bodies would not be able to function. Some of these nutrients includes:

  • Minerals: Chromium, copper, iron, zinc, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium and sulphur
  • B group vitamins: Thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, pantothenic acid, pyridoxine, folate, biotin
  • Vitamin C
  • Vitamin E

By just focusing on one element of our diet i.e. carbohydrates, we forget all of the other nutrients that are essential for good health. Moderation is the key to good health: eat a wide variety of foods, mostly plant foods, choose wholegrain varieties, some meat/ alternatives, dairy and fruits, drink water and avoid eating processed foods and sugar sweetened drinks on a daily basis.

Published in Territory Way March 2015, please click here to see more interesting articles. 


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