Dietary Sources of Carbohydrates
Carbohydrates account for more than 50 percent of the calories in the average American diet, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Most dietary carbohydrates come from plants. Sugars and starches are nutritive carbohydrates, meaning they are broken down and utilized by the body, primarily to generate energy. Although dietary fiber is also a carbohydrate, it contributes no calories because it is not digested or absorbed.
Grain products are the leading source of carbohydrates in the American diet. Grains naturally contain high concentrations of starch, which your gastrointestinal system breaks down into sugars. Common grains in the U.S. diet include wheat, oats, rice, barley and cornmeal. Amaranth, buckwheat, triticale, spelt, sorghum, quinoa, millet, farro, bulgur and grano are also sources of dietary carbohydrates. Any food that includes grain or grain flour as a primary ingredient contains carbohydrates, such as bread and other baked goods, pasta, cereal, crackers and tortillas. Choosing whole-grain products instead of those made from refined grains boosts your dietary fiber intake, which supports your heart and digestive health.
Starchy Vegetables and Beans
Beans and starchy vegetables, such as potatoes, yams, green peas, water chestnuts and corn, contain high levels of complex carbohydrates that your body digests into sugars. In addition, starchy vegetables and beans contribute vitamins, minerals and fiber to your diet. Dry beans also serve as a good source of lean dietary protein.
All fruit and fruit juices contain carbohydrates in the form of natural sugars, such as glucose and fructose. Fruit sugars contribute nearly all of the calories contained in these foods. With persistently low consumption rates, fruit contributes less than 8 percent of the average daily calories in the American diet, according to the USDA. Fresh fruit is a healthier option than fruit juice because it provides more dietary fiber and less carbohydrate by volume. For example, a cup of apple juice contains 29 grams of carbohydrates and 0.2 gram of fiber compared to 14 grams of carbohydrates and 1.4 grams of fiber in a cup of fresh apples.
Dairy milk is the only significant source of dietary carbohydrates not derived from plants. A cup of unflavored milk contains about 11 to 12 grams of carbohydrate in the form of milk sugar, or lactose. Chocolate milk contains more than twice the amount of carbohydrate per cup compared to plain milk because sugar is added to sweeten the flavor. Sugar-sweetened soda, fruit drinks and sports and energy drinks substantially contribute to dietary carbohydrate intake among Americans who consume these products. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that U.S. males consume an average of 45 grams of carbohydrates daily from sugar-sweetened drinks and females consume 26 grams.
Sweets and Added Sugar
Eating candy and desserts markedly boosts the number of carbohydrates in your diet. Indulging in a 1.6-ounce milk chocolate bar adds more than 26 grams of carbohydrates to your daily intake; a slice of cherry pie adds approximately 47 to 69 grams. Sugar added to processed foods that you may not consider sweet can be an unrecognized source of carbohydrates in your diet. Commercial pasta sauces, salad dressings, sandwich bread, energy and nutrition bars, cereals, heat-and-eat meals and other convenience foods commonly contain high-fructose corn syrup or another form of sugar for added flavor. Opting for whole, fresh foods rather than processed foods helps you avoid hidden carbohydrates.
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