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Feature Articles: Food, Fitness and Eating Well

Make wise decisions when choosing carbohydrates

Tammy Roberts, MS, RD, LD, Nutrition and Health Education Specialist, Barton County, University of Missouri Extension


Nutrition professionals encourage people to use the food label to make healthy choices. The food label can be a great tool but there are instances in which many people wish they could get more information. This is true for the portion of the food label that lists carbohydrates.


The term carbohydrate takes in a broad range of food. According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, carbohydrates are the “sugars, starches and fibers found in fruits, vegetables, grains and milk products.” Sugar, syrup and honey are also carbohydrates.


The food label lists total carbohydrate in grams and then lists sugars and fiber in grams. When sugar is listed, that includes the added sugar plus the naturally occurring sugar in the food. It can be hard to make a decision about purchasing a food when you do not know how much sugar has been added to that food.


Added sugars should contribute no more than 25% of total calories. This would be no more than 125 grams of carbohydrate from added sugars. Added sugars contribute calories only and have no nutrient value.


When you look at a food label, it is easy to guess that sugar is added to soda, candy and desserts. It is not easy to guess some of the other foods that have added sugar. One way to tell is to look at the ingredients of the food. Words that end in “ose” indicate a type of sugar. Sucrose and high fructose corn syrup are examples. Other types of added sugars include brown sugar, syrup, molasses, honey and dextrin.


The United States Department of Agriculture has published a resource that can be found at that lists the amounts of added sugar in 2,038 foods. This resource lists carbohydrate, total sugar and added sugar per 100 grams of food. (100 grams is approximately one-half cup.)


Carbohydrates are an important part of our diet. Carbohydrates should make up 45-65% of our total calories (225-325grams) for a day. These calories should come from a wide variety of foods that include grains, fruits, vegetables and dairy products. Carbohydrates are our body’s preferred source of energy for the brain, central nervous system and red blood cells. The brain alone needs 130 grams of carbohydrate each day for normal functioning. Carbohydrates are brain food. Choose them wisely!




Last update: Tuesday, May 05, 2009








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