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Carbohydrate intake should be 55-60 percent of calories according to the American Heart Association. Their primary function is to provide energy for the body, especially the brain and the nervous system. It's better to eat more complex carbohydrates--vegetables, fruits and grains--than simple carbohydrates found in sweets and whole flour. Complex carbohydrates add more fiber, vitamins and minerals to the diet than foods high in refined sugars. Foods high in complex carbohydrates are usually low in calories, saturated fat and cholesterol. Unfortunately, many Americans aren't reaping the benefits of complex carbohydrates. The Food Guide Pyramid recommends six ouncesof grains such as bread, cereal, rice, and pasta every day with at least 3 ounces from whole grain sources.

Americans should eat 20-35 grams of fiber each day, including both soluble and insoluble fiber. The average American currently eats 12-17 grams of fiber a day. Only about 1/4 of this is soluble fiber; therefore , the average American is eating only 3-4 grams of soluble fiber--below the recommended amount of 5-10 grams. Eating 3 grams a day of soluble fiber from oats or 7 grams a day of soluble fiber from psyllium has been shown to lower blood cholesterol levels.

Fiber is a type of complex carbohydrate your body can't digest or absorb, so it passes through your digestive tract without adding calories or nutrients to your diet. Eating enough fiber pays big benefits by keeping your system regular and helping protect against heart disease and some cancers. When eaten as part of a low-fat diet, fiber can help lower your blood cholesterol. Dietary fiber is the part of a plant that your body can't digest. Most dietary fiber passes through your body unchanged. As it passes through your body, however, fiber affects the way your body digests food and absorbs nutrients. Your stomach accepts almost anything you send its way. However, certain foods that are high in fiber tend to pass more easily and quickly through your digestive tract and can help it function properly. The National Cancer Institute recommends 20 to 35 grams of fiber each day, but most people average only about 11 grams. Fiber is plentiful in whole grains, legumes, vegetables, and fruits. Here are some top choices for boosting your fiber intake.

  Serving Size Fiber (grams)
All-Bran cereal 1/2 cup 10
Spaghetti, whole wheat,cooked 1 cup 6
Bran flakes cereal 3/4 cup 5
Potato, baked with skin 1 medium 5
Figs, dried 2 4
Lentils, cooked 1/2 cup 4
Oatmeal, cooked 3/4 cup 3
Broccoli, cooked 1/2 cup 3
Peas, green 1/2 cup 3
Spinach, cooked 1/2 cup 3
Apple, with skin medium 3
Banana medium 3
Orange 1 medium 3
Strawberries 1 cup 3
Bread, whole wheat 1 slice 2
Brown rice, cooked 1/2 cup 2

There are two types of fiber soluble and insoluble.

  • Soluble fiber may help lower blood cholesterol and blood sugar levels and reduce your risk of heart attack.
  • Although not yet proven, insoluble fiber may reduce your risk of heart disease. In addition, it holds onto water, which helps prevent constipation and subsequently reduces your risk of hemorrhoids and diverticulosis.

    Foods high in soluble fiber: Oat bran, oatmeal, beans, peas, rice bran, barley, citrus fruits, strawberries and apple pulp.

    Foods high in insoluble fiber: Whole-wheat breads, wheat cereals, wheat bran, cabbage, beets, carrots, brussel sprouts, turnips, cauliflower, apple skin. And grains such as rye, rice, and barley;

Many commercial oat bran and wheat bran products (muffins, chips, waffles) actually contain very little bran. They may also be high in sodium, total fat and saturated fat. We recommend reading the labels on all packaged foods. In addition to soluble fibers, which are found naturally in several foods, some man-made foods can lower cholesterol.

For example, Benecol and Take Control are sterol-enriched margarines intended for use by people who have high cholesterol. They work by competing with cholesterol for absorption into the body.

Elevated levels of blood cholesterol may increase your risk of heart disease. Your doctor is familiar with your family history and other possible risk factors, can assess your overall health, and help you set goals to reduce your risk, including reducing cholesterol.

Which foods are sources of complex carbohydrates?

  • Starches: pasta, bread, rice, corn, oats, barley, potatoes, legumes, fruits and vegetables
  • Fiber-Insoluble: whole-wheat breads and cereals, wheat bran, cabbage, beets, carrots, Brussels sprouts, turnips, cauliflower and apple skin (pectin)
  • Fiber-Soluble: oat bran, oats, legumes, citrus fruits, apple pulp, psyllium, rice bran and barley

Which foods are sources of simple carbohydrates?

  • Sucrose - Table sugar, brown sugar, confectioners sugar, raw sugar and turbinado
  • Glucose - Dextrose, corn syrup and glucose syrup
  • High fructose corn syrup - Liquid sweetener that contains 42-90 percent fructose
  • Honey - Made up of glucose, fructose and water
  • Sugar alcohols - Sorbitol, mannitol, xybitol
  • Maltose, dextrose - cereals and some baked goods

What are the amounts of carbohydrate in grams for various calorie levels?

Calorie Level? Total Carbohydrate (grams)
1200 165-180?
1500 206-225?
1800 248-270?
2000 275-300?
2200 303-330?
2500 344-375?
3000 413-450?

New Concerns About Carbohydrates?

For years, nutrition experts have urged us to eat a diet high in carbohydrates. But recent reports and some current nutrition books linking these foods to obesity and diabetes may have you confused. A few popular diet books speculate that a high carbohydrate diet leads to weight gain in people who are insulin resistant; the theory is that carbohydrates trigger these high insulin levels, which encourage the production of body fat.

Should you ban bread and pasta from your diet to avoid obesity? It's true that carbohydrates can drive up insulin levels in insulin-resistant people, who are often obese. But, "No solid scientific data shows that eating carbohydrates causes weight gain. Eating too many calories of any type is what causes weight gain," says Dr. James O. Hill, an obesity researcher at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center.

The bottom line: Stay tuned as research on carbohydrates unfolds, and "Follow the Food Guide Pyramid's recommendations to eat lots of grains, fruits, and vegetables," says registered dietitian Christine Beebe, president-elect of health care and education for the American Diabetes Association.


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