Are you tracking your macros? Or on a diet? Considering keto? Or just curious how many carbs you’re eating in a day? You’ll need to know how many calories are in a gram of carbs! This quick guide breaks down everything you need know about calculating your carbohydrate intake.
Today I’m putting on my nutritionist hat to talk all things carbs! There is a growing trend to measure macros (short for macronutrients) instead of calories. Macros simply refers to the grams of protein, carbohydrates, and fat one consumes. The advantage to this technique is that it is not only an effective means of tracking energy consumption but also a way of ensuring you balance your daily intake of each of the three macros (carbs, protein, and fats) to ensure a proper balance.
How Many Calories Are In A Gram?
So how many calories are in a gram of each macronutrient?
- 1 gram of carbohydrates provides 4 calories
- 1 gram of protein provides 4 calories
- 1 gram of fat provides 9 calories
Are all Carbs the same?
All carbs are not created equally. The reason for this is both simple and complex.
The term simple carbohydrates refers to carbs made from sugars. The American Heart Association states that some of these sugars are naturally occurring (such as in fruits and milk), but many take the form of refined or processed sugars added to foods. These simple carbs are quickly absorbed after eating and can cause a spike in blood sugar levels.
Complex carbohydrates, on the other hand, are found in whole grains, legumes, and vegetables. Complex carbs tend to keep you full longer because they take more time for your body to digest. Complex carbs often have the additional benefit of being accompanied by fiber.
Is fiber a carb?
Fiber is a type of complex carbohydrate that your body cannot breakdown on its own – and this is a good thing! Fiber has the dual benefit of feeding good bacteria in your digestive system and assisting in the absorption of carbohydrates into one’s bloodstream at a slower rate preventing spikes in glucose and insulin levels and making you feel full longer. There are two types of fiber.
Soluble fiber dissolves in water in the stomach, and is broken down by bacteria in the large intestine. Soluble fiber provides approximately 2 calories per gram.
Insoluble fiber does not dissolve in water and passes through the gastrointestinal tract relatively intact, and is not a source of calories.
So why should I limit sugar?
Sugar is a simple carbohydrate that comes with a lot of baggage. As mentioned above, over consumption of sugar can cause spikes in blood sugar and insulin levels, but there is increasing evidence that excessive sugar intake’s damage to your health can go well beyond this. Harvard Health asserts that excess sugar in our diet can lead to: higher blood pressure, inflammation, weight gain, diabetes, and fatty liver disease. These in turn are directly linked to an increase risk for heart attack and stroke.
There has been a significant concern lately regarding the link between excess sugar consumption and low-grade inflammation which Harvard Health says can turn into a silent killer contributing to cardiovascular disease, cancer, type 2 diabetes, and other conditions.
So How much Sugar is Too Much?
To be honest sugar is not a required dietary ingredient, so no sugar would be ideal but perhaps not very realistic. The American Heart Association suggests that women consume no more than 6 teaspoons (24 grams or about 100 calories) of sugar daily, and suggests no more than 9 teaspoons for men. This is about the amount of sugar in a single 12-ounce can of soda.
The best way to limit your sugar intake is to not add it, or add it very sparingly, to food and drinks and to read food labels.
Sugar names on food labels
Food labels are required to list the grams of sugar in a serving and now list the number of grams of added sugar in each serving. Sugar is often listed by other names, so watch for:
- brown sugar
- corn sweetener
- corn syrup
- fruit juice concentrates
- high-fructose corn syrup
- malt sugar
- words ending in “ose” such as dextrose, fructose, glucose, lactose, maltose, sucrose.
How much carbohydrate do you need?
The Mayo Clinic recommends that 45-65% of calories come from carbohydrates
- If you need 1500 calories then eat 169-244 grams of carbs per day
- If you need 2000 calories then eat 225-325 grams of carbs per day
- If you need 2500 calories then eat 281-406 grams of carbs per day
Obviously, if you are on a low carb diet these numbers will be much different. But for most people, the Mayo Clinic’s recommendation is in line with the advice of many dietitians.
How much fiber do you need per day?
The Mayo Clinic further recommends that women eat at least 21 to 25 grams of fiber a day, while men should aim for 30 to 38 grams a day. A recent article published by the National Institute for Health (NIH) asserts that 95% of Americans do not eat enough fiber.