How Many Grams of Carbs Per Day Do You Need?

Is pasta healthy - Dr. Axe

One of those common questions I get is, “How many grams of carbs per day do you need?”

We know that there are a lot of different diets out there, some saying to go completely carb-free like the keto diet and some saying you need to eat more carbs and low-fat foods.


How Many Grams of Carbs Per Day Do You Need?

So, how many grams of carbs per day do you really need? It depends on your health goals and body type. On a typical, healthy diet, you want carbohydrates to typically be about 40 percent of your overall intake of calories — that’s for an active person.

If you’re active, about 40 percent of your calories should come from carbs, another 30 percent from protein and another 30 percent from fat in general — this has the added benefit of helping prevent arteriosclerosis. Some people may consume a greater percentage of healthy fats if the goal is to become a fat burner. If you’re really trying to gain muscle, you may need more grams of protein per day as well.

In general, how many grams of carbs per day you should consume is probably going to be in between 500 and 800 calories from carbohydrates, and that’s typically about 150 to 200 grams of carbohydrates per day — 200 is an upper amount and goes as low as 120, which may be ideal for many trying to trim down. So when you’re counting your carbohydrates, 120 to 200 grams for most people is ideal when it comes to burning fat and just overall general health.


The Truth About Carbs

Carbohydrates are not evil. We’ve seen the low-carb diet fad with diets like Atkins, the South Beach diet, Paleo diet and ketogenic diet today, where some of them have sort of painted carbohydrates in a bad light. In reality, your body naturally uses carbohydrates for energy, and they’re important for cellular function — but the truth is also that most people are getting way too many carbohydrates in their diets per day.

Here is some perspective on carbs: The health benefits of blueberries make it an amazing superfood. They have antioxidants, carbohydrates, fiber, vitamins and minerals, but if you take blueberries and extract the sugar out of them, you just have fructose. That sugar by itself — without the fiber, antioxidants and minerals — is now toxic to your body.

Sugar and carbohydrates have gotten a bad rap for that reason — because so many of the foods we have today are isolated compounds and are simply not real foods. Fructose by itself is not a real food. It’s toxic to your system versus blueberries or sprouted grain breads, for example; those are real foods. They have cofactors or nutrients with them that support absorbability and digestibility. It’s a similar thing with the refined carbohydrates in white rice versus brown rice.

How many grams of carbs per day you should consume also depends on the form you get them in. You can eat a little bit of a bigger serving of brown rice because it’s a high-fiber food that slows the absorption of those carbohydrates turning into sugar, versus white rice that turns into sugar almost immediately.

Your activity level, body type and goals also affect how many grams of carbs per day you should consume. One of the best things you can do is take time and make a food diary. Write down for three to seven days what you eat on a daily basis. Then really start monitoring your overall fat, carb and protein intake and see how your body does.

If your goal was weight loss, then really look at what you eat, weigh yourself or test your body fat. Again, see where you’re at. This helps you engage in mindful eating, rather than just shoveling calories in a reactionary way.

A keto diet is an extremely low-carb diet that utilizes fats and the resulting ketone bodies produced by the liver for energy, rather than carbohydrates. While it is an excellent way to drop body fat, I don’t believe it’s sustainable long-term because of how restrictive it is. So, even if you drop your carb macros for a period of time to lose weight, practicing carb cycling after that first period of time (one to three months) can be a great way to take advantage of both the benefits of a diet high in healthy fats as well as healthy carbs.


The Best Sources of Carbohydrates

My overall philosophy isn’t just about quantity. It’s also not about counting carbohydrates, fat or protein grams, and it’s not about calorie counting — instead, it’s about the quality of the food you eat.

Good carbs are found in foods like:

What’s different about these foods? Well, unlike many common sources of carbohydrates eaten on a standard American diet, like processed breads, fried foods, white rice, refined sugars and conventional dairy, the best carbohydrates are found in foods that are also nutrient-dense (like the blueberries!).

If you count macros to keep your diet focused around a specific number of carbohydrates a day, try the items above as sources of healthy carbohydrates. Other nutritional foods with higher carbs include starchy vegetables, all fruits and ancient grains (similar to quinoa).


Final Thoughts

When it comes to an exact number of carbs per day, each person is slightly different. However, for the average person following a healthy, well-rounded diet, carbohydrates should make up around 40 percent of your daily calorie intake, or about 150-200 grams of carbohydrates (depending on where you land).

Carbs are not inherently evil; however, they sometimes get a bad reputation because many unhealthy foods are incredibly high in carbohydrates. This is often due to the presence of nutritionally void ingredients like refined sugars and white breads, pastas and flours.

The best carbs to eat are nutritious foods that contain many vital nutrients, such as fruits, starchy vegetables and ancient grains.

Read Next: Paleo vs. Vegan Diet: the Pros & Cons


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