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What are the best carbs to eat

Carbs, short for carbohydrates, are one of three macro nutrients (nutrients that form a large part of your diet) found in food – the others being fat and protein.

While carbohydrates, fat and protein are all sources of energy in you diet, the amount of energy that each one provides varies:

  • Carbohydrate provides: about 4kcal (17kJ) per gram
  • Protein provides: 4kcal (17kJ) per gram
  • Fat provides: 9kcal (37kJ) per gram

In the absence of carbohydrates in the diet your body will convert protein (or other non-carbohydrate substances) into glucose, so it’s not just carbohydrates that can raise your blood sugar and insulin levels.

If you consume more calories than you burn from whatever source, you will gain weight. So cutting out carbohydrates or fat does not necessarily mean cutting out calories if you are replacing them with other foods containing the same amount of calories.

Carbohydrates and protein contain roughly the same number of calories per gram but other factors influence the sensation of feeling full such as the type and variety of food eaten, eating behavior and environmental factors, such as portion size and availability of food choices.

The sensation of feeling full can also vary from person to person. Among other things, protein-rich foods can help you feel full and you should have some beans, pulses, fish, eggs, meat and other protein foods as part of a healthy balanced diet. But you shouldn’t eat too much of these foods. Remember that starchy foods should make up about a third of the food you eat and you need to eat more fruit and vegetables.

Hardly any foods contain only one nutrient and most are a combination of carbohydrates, fats and proteins in varying amounts. There are three different types of carbohydrates found in food: sugar, starch and fiber.

  • Sugar is composed of one unit (a monosaccharide, such as glucose or fructose) or two joined units (a disaccharide, such as lactose or sucrose). Sugar is found naturally in some foods, including fruit, honey, fruit juices, milk (lactose) and vegetables. Other forms of sugar (for example table sugar) can be added to food and drink such as sweets, chocolates, biscuits and soft drinks during manufacture, or added when cooking or baking at home.
  • Starch, made up of many sugar units bonded together, is found in foods that come from plants. Examples of foods containing starch include vegetables (e.g., potatoes, carrots), grains (e.g., brown rice, oats, wheat, barley, corn), pasta and legumes (beans and peas; e.g., kidney beans, garbanzo beans, lentils, split peas), provide a slow and steady release of energy throughout the day.
  • Fiber is the name given to the diverse range of compounds found in the cell walls of foods that come from plants. Total fiber is the sum of dietary fiber and functional fiber. Dietary fiber consists of non-digestible carbohydrates and lignin that are intrinsic and intact in plants (i.e., the fiber naturally occurring in foods). Functional fiber consists of isolated, non-digestible carbohydrates that have beneficial physiological effects in humans. Functional fibers are either extracted from natural sources or are synthetically manufactured and added to foods, beverages, and supplements. Good sources of fiber include vegetables with skins on, wholegrain bread, wholewheat pasta and pulses (beans and lentils).

There are two types of carbohydrates that the body turns into energy: simple and complex.

  • Simple carbohydrates are often listed on nutrition labels as “carbohydrates (of which sugars)”. This includes added sugars and the natural sugars found in fruit and milk.
  • Complex carbohydrates are also called starchy foods. Starchy foods include potatoes, bread, rice, pasta and other starchy carbohydrates. We should get most of our energy from complex carbohydrates rather than those containing sugar. Try to choose higher-fiber, wholegrain varieties of starchy foods whenever you can by choosing wholewheat pasta, brown rice, or simply leaving the skins on potatoes.

Sometimes you will only see a total figure for carbohydrates on nutrition labels. This includes the carbohydrates from complex carbohydrates and from simple carbohydrates.


Sugars occur naturally in foods such as fruit and milk, however we do not need to cut down on these types of sugars. Sugars are also added to a wide range of foods such as sweets, cakes, biscuits and chocolates, and it is these types of sugary foods that we should cut down on, as regularly consuming foods and drinks high in sugar increases your risk of obesity and tooth decay.

Nutrition labels often tell you how much sugar a food contains. This includes added sugars (also called “free sugars”) and the natural sugars found in fruit and milk. You can compare labels and choose foods that are lower in sugar.

best carbs to eat

How much carbohydrate should you eat ?

The American Dietary Guidelines on healthy eating recommends that just over a third of your diet should be made up of starchy foods, such as potatoes, bread, rice and pasta, and another third should be fruit and vegetables. This means that over half (45 to 65 percent of total calories) of your daily calorie intake should come from starchy foods, fruit and vegetables.

Best carbs to eat for weight loss

Data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) 1, which looks at food consumption in the US, shows that most of us should also be eating more fiber and starchy foods and fewer sweets, chocolates, biscuits, pastries, cakes and soft drinks with added sugar. These are usually high in sugar and calories, which can increase the risk of tooth decay and contribute to weight gain if you eat them too often, while providing few other nutrients.

It’s important to choose carbohydrates wisely. Your best carbohydrate-containing foods are nutrient-packed foods in several of the basic food groups: fruits, vegetables, grains, and milk and milk products. Choosing these foods within your calorie requirements daily may help your heart stay healthy and reduce your risk for chronic disease.

Fruit, vegetables, pulses and starchy foods (especially wholegrain varieties) provide a wider range of nutrients (such as vitamins and minerals) which can benefit our health. The fiber in these foods can help to keep your bowels healthy and adds bulk to your meal, helping you to feel full.

Cutting out a whole food group (such as starchy foods) as some diets recommend could put your health at risk because as well as cutting out the body’s main source of energy you’d be cutting back essential nutrients like B vitamins, zinc and iron from your diet.

Here’s what you need to know:

  • Choose fiber-rich fruits, vegetables, and whole grains often.
  • Focus on fruits: Eat a variety of fruits. Make most of your fruit choices fresh, frozen, canned, or dried, rather than fruit juice.
  • Vary your veggies:
    • Eat more dark green veggies, such as broccoli, kale, and other dark leafy greens. And try more orange veggies, such as carrots, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, and winter squash.
    • Legumes—such as dry beans and peas—are especially rich in dietary fiber and should be consumed several times per week.
  • Make at least half your grains whole grains: Eat at least 3 ounces daily of whole grains. Examples of whole grains are whole-grain cereals, breads, crackers, and pasta. Other examples are brown and wild rice. One slice (1 ounce) of whole-grain bread, 1/2 cup brown rice, and 1/2 cup of oatmeal is equivalent to 3 ounces of whole grains. If you eat a 2,000-calorie diet, you will need approximately each day: 2 to 2 1/2 cups of fruit, 2 to 2 1/2 cups of vegetables, and 6 to 8 ounces of grains (at least 4 ounces should be whole grains). In addition, you should eat nuts, seeds, and legumes 4 to 5 times per week.

Many packaged foods have fiber information on the front of the package.

  • For example, the package might say “excellent source of fiber,” “rich in fiber,” or “high in fiber.” The Nutrition Facts label will list the amount of dietary fiber in a serving and the % Daily Value (% DV). Look at the % DV column: 5% DV or less is low in dietary fiber, and 20% DV or more is high.

Check the product name and ingredient list.

  • For many, but not all “whole-grain” food products, the words “whole” or “whole grain” may appear before the name (e.g., whole-wheat bread). But, because whole-grain foods cannot necessarily be identified by their color or name (brown bread, 9-grain bread, hearty grains bread, mixed grain bread, etc. are not always “whole-grain”), you need to look at the ingredient list. The whole grain should be the first ingredient listed.

The following are some examples of how whole grains could be listed:

  • whole wheat
  • brown rice
  • quinoa
  • buckwheat whole
  • oats/oatmeal
  • whole rye
  • bulgur (cracked wheat)
  • sorghum
  • whole grain
  • barley
  • popcorn
  • millet
  • wild rice
  • triticale

How much dietary fiber do I need ?

The recommended dietary fiber intake is 14 grams per 1,000 calories consumed. For example, if you’re a physically active woman who needs 2,000 calories a day, you should be aiming for 28 grams of dietary fiber a day. You could meet this goal by eating 1 cup raspberries (8 grams) and a whole-wheat English muffin (4.4 grams) for breakfast, 1/2 cup black beans (7.5 grams) with lunch, and 1 cup of mixed vegetables (8 grams) with dinner.

How can you increase my fiber intake ?

To increase the amount of fibre in your diet, aim for at least five portions of a variety of fruit and veg a day, go for wholegrain varieties of starchy foods and eat potatoes with skins on. Try to aim for an average intake of 30g of fibre a day.

Here are some examples of the typical fibre content in some common foods:

  • two breakfast wheat biscuits (approx. 37.5g) – 3.6g of fibre
  • one slice of wholemeal bread – 2.5g (one slice of white bread – 0.9g)
  • 80g of uncooked wholewheat pasta – 7.6g
  • one medium (180g) baked potato (with skin) – 4.7g
  • 80g (4 heaped tablespoons) of cooked runner beans – 1.6g
  • 80g (3 heaped tablespoons) of cooked carrots – 2.2g
  • 1 small cob (3 heaped tablespoons) of sweetcorn – 2.2g
  • 200g of baked beans – 9.8g
  • 1 medium orange – 1.9g
  • 1 medium banana – 1.4g

What foods contain dietary fiber and how much do they contain ?

FoodGrams of fiber% Daily Value*
1/2 cup cooked navy beans9.5 grams of fiber38% Daily Value
1/2 cup ready-to-eat 100% bran cereal8.8 grams of fiber35% Daily Value
1/2 cup cooked lentils7.8 grams of fiber31% Daily Value
1/2 cup cooked chickpeas6.2 grams of fiber25% Daily Value
1 medium baked sweet potato with skin4.8 grams of fiber19% Daily Value
1 small raw pear4.3 grams of fiber17% Daily Value
1 medium baked potato with skin3.8 grams of fiber15% Daily Value
1/2 cup frozen spinach, cooked3.5 grams of fiber14% Daily Value
1 medium raw orange3.1 grams of fiber12% Daily Value
1/2 cup cooked broccoli2.8 grams of fiber11% Daily Value
* % Daily Values listed in this column are based on the food amounts listed in the table. The Daily Value for fiber is 25 grams.

Do carbohydrates make you fat ?

Any food can be fattening if you overeat. Whether your diet is high in fat or high in carbohydrates, if you frequently consume more energy than your body uses you are likely to put on weight. In fact, gram for gram, carbohydrate contains fewer than half the calories of fat and wholegrain varieties of starchy foods are good sources of fiber. Foods high in fiber add bulk to your meal and help you to feel full.

However, foods high in sugar are often high in calories and eating these foods too often can contribute to you becoming overweight. There is some evidence that diets high in sugar are associated with an increased energy content of the diet overall, which over time can lead to weight gain.

When people cut out carbs and lose weight, it’s not just carbs they’re cutting out, they’re cutting out the high-calorie ingredients mixed in or eaten with it, such as butter, cheese, cream, sugar and oil. Eating too many calories – whether they are carbs, protein or fat – will contribute to weight gain.

When is the best time to eat carbohydrates ?

When you should eat carbohydrates particularly for weight loss is the subject of much debate, but there’s little scientific evidence that one time is better than any other. It is recommended that you base all your meals around starchy carbohydrate foods, try and choose higher-fiber, wholegrain varieties when you can.

Can cutting out wheat help me lose weight ?

Some people point to bread and other wheat-based foods as the main culprit for their weight gain. Wheat is found in a wide range of foods, from bread, pasta and pizza, to cereals and many other foods. However, there is no evidence that wheat is more likely to cause weight gain than any other food.

Unless you have a diagnosed health condition such as wheat allergy, wheat sensitivity or Celiac disease, there is little evidence that cutting out wheat and other grains from your diet would benefit your health. Grains, especially wholegrains, are an important part of a healthy balanced diet. Wholegrain, wholemeal and brown breads give us energy and contain B vitamins, vitamin E, fiber and a wide range of minerals.

White bread also contains a range of vitamins and minerals, but it has less fiber than wholegrain, wholemeal or brown breads. If you prefer white bread, look for higher-fiber options. Grains are also naturally low in fat.

Can eating low GI (glycaemic index) foods help me lose weight ?

The glycaemic index (GI) is a rating system for foods containing carbohydrates. It shows how quickly each food affects glucose (sugar) levels in your blood, when that food is eaten on its own. Some low GI foods, such as wholegrain foods, fruit, vegetables, beans and lentils are foods we should eat as part of a healthy balanced diet. However, using GI to decide whether foods or a combination of foods are healthy or can help with weight reduction can be misleading.

Although low GI foods cause blood sugar levels to rise and fall slowly, and which may help you to feel fuller for longer, not all low GI foods are healthy. For example, watermelon and parsnips are high GI foods, while chocolate cake has a lower GI value. Also, the cooking method and eating foods in combination as part of a meal, will change the GI rating. Therefore, GI alone is not a reliable way of deciding whether foods or combinations of foods are healthy or will help you to lose weight.

What’s the role of carbohydrates in bodybuilding and exercise ?

Carbohydrates, fat and protein all provide energy, but exercising muscles rely on carbohydrates as their main source of fuel. However, muscles have limited carbohydrates stores (glycogen) and they need to be topped up regularly to keep your energy up. A diet low in carbohydrates can lead to a lack of energy during exercise, early fatigue and delayed recovery.

Why do you need carbs ?

Carbohydrates are important to your health for a number of reasons.


Carbohydrates should be the body’s main source of energy in a healthy balanced diet, providing about 4kcal (17kJ) per gram. They are broken down into glucose (sugar) before being absorbed into the bloodstream. From there, the glucose enters the body’s cells with the help of insulin. Glucose is used by your body for energy, fuelling all of your activities, whether going for a run or simply breathing.

Unused glucose can be converted to glycogen found in the liver and muscles. If more glucose is consumed than can be stored as glycogen, it is converted to fat, for long-term storage of energy. High fiber, starchy carbohydrates release sugar into the blood more slowly than sugary foods and drinks.

Disease risk

Vegetables, pulses, wholegrain varieties of starchy foods, and potatoes eaten with their skins on are good sources of fiber. Fiber is an important part of a healthy balanced diet. It can promote good bowel health, reduce the risk of constipation, and some forms of fiber have been shown to reduce cholesterol levels.

Research shows diets high in fiber are associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and bowel cancer. Many people don’t get enough fiber. On average, most people in the US get about 18g of fiber a day. You are advised to eat an average of 30g a day.

Calorie intake

Carbohydrate contains fewer calories gram for gram than fat, and starchy foods can be a good source of fiber, which means they can be a useful part of your weight loss plan. By replacing fatty, sugary foods and drinks with high-fiber starchy foods, it is more likely you will reduce the number of calories in your diet.

Also, high fiber foods add bulk to your meal helping you feel full. Though you still need to watch your portion sizes to avoid overeating. Also watch the amount of fat you add when cooking and serving them: this is what increases the calorie content.

Starchy foods and carbohydrates

Starchy foods are your main source of carbohydrate and play an important role in a healthy diet.

Starchy foods such as potatoes, bread, rice, pasta and cereals should make up just over a third of the food you eat.

Where you can, choose wholegrain varieties, and eat potatoes with their skins on for more fiber.

You should eat some starchy foods every day as part of a healthy, balanced diet.

During cooking, aim for a golden yellow color or lighter when baking, toasting, roasting or frying starchy foods like potatoes, root vegetables and bread.

Why do you need starchy foods ?

Starchy foods are a good source of energy and the main source of a range of nutrients in our diet. As well as starch, they contain fibre, calcium, iron and B vitamins.

Some people think starchy foods are fattening, but gram for gram they contain fewer than half the calories of fat.

Just watch out for the added fats used when you cook and serve them: this is what increases the calorie content.

Starchy foods and fiber

Wholegrain varieties of starchy foods and potatoes – particularly when eaten with their skins on – are good sources of fiber.

Fiber is the name given to a range of compounds found in the cell walls of vegetables, fruits, pulses and cereal grains.

Fibre that cannot be digested helps other food and waste products move through the gut more easily.

Potato skins, wholegrain bread and breakfast cereals, brown rice, and wholewheat pasta are good sources of this kind of fiber.

Fiber can help keep your bowels healthy and can help you feel full, which means we’re less likely to eat too much.

  • This makes wholegrain starchy foods and potatoes eaten with their skins on a particularly good choice if you’re trying to lose weight.

Some types of fiber – present in fruits and vegetables such as apples, carrots, potatoes, oats and pulses – can be partly digested, and may help reduce the amount of cholesterol in the blood.

Tips to eat more starchy foods

These tips can help you increase the amount of starchy foods in your diet.


  • Opt for wholegrain cereals, or mix some in with your favorite healthy breakfast cereals.
  • Plain porridge with fruit is perfect as a warming winter breakfast.
  • Whole oats with fruit and low-fat, lower-sugar yogurt make a great summer breakfast.

Lunch and dinner

  • Try a baked potato for lunch – eat the skin for even more fiber.
  • Instead of having chips or frying potatoes, try making oven baked potato wedges.
  • Have more rice or pasta and less sauce – but don’t skip the vegetables.
  • Try different breads, such as seeded, wholemeal and granary. When you choose wholegrain varieties, you’ll also increase the amount of fiber you’re eating.
  • Try brown rice – it makes a very tasty rice salad.

Types of starchy foods


Potatoes are a great choice of starchy food and a good source of energy, fiber, B vitamins and potassium.

In the US, you also get a lot of your vitamin C from potatoes – although they only contain vitamin C in small amounts, we generally eat a lot of them. They’re good value for money and can be a healthy choice.

Although potatoes are vegetables, in the US we mostly eat them as the starchy food part of a meal, and they’re a good source of carbohydrate in our diets.

Because of this, potatoes don’t count towards your portions of fruit and vegetables a day, but they can play an important role in your diet.

Potatoes are a healthy choice when boiled, baked, mashed or roasted with only a small amount of fat or oil and no added salt.

French fries and other chips cooked in oil or served with salt are not a healthy choice.

When cooking or serving potatoes, try to go for lower-fat (polyunsaturated) spreads or small amounts of unsaturated oils, such as olive or sunflower oil, instead of butter.

In mashed potato, use lower-fat milk – such as semi-skimmed, 1% fat or skimmed milk – instead of whole milk or cream.

Leave potato skins on where possible to keep in more of the fiber and vitamins. For example, eat the skin when you’re having boiled potatoes or a baked potato.

If you’re boiling potatoes, some nutrients will leak out into the water, especially if you’ve peeled them. To stop this happening, only use enough water to cover them and cook them only for as long as they need.

Storing potatoes in a cool, dark and dry place will help stop them sprouting. Don’t eat any green, damaged or sprouting bits of potatoes as these can contain toxins that can be harmful.


Bread – especially wholemeal, granary, brown and seeded varieties – is a healthy choice to eat as part of a balanced diet.

Wholegrain, wholemeal and brown breads give us energy and contain B vitamins, vitamin E, fiber and a wide range of minerals.

White bread also contains a range of vitamins and minerals, but it has less fiber than wholegrain, wholemeal or brown breads. If you prefer white bread, look for higher-fiber options.

Some people avoid bread because they’re concerned that they’re allergic to wheat, or they think bread is fattening.

However, cutting out any type of food altogether might mean you miss out on a whole range of nutrients people need to stay healthy.

If you’re concerned that you have a wheat allergy or intolerance, speak to your health care provider.

Bread can be stored at room temperature. Follow the “best before” date to make sure you eat it fresh.

Cereal products

Cereal products are made from grains. Wholegrain cereals can contribute to our daily intake of iron, fiber, B vitamins and protein. Higher-fiber options can also provide a slow release of energy.

Wheat, oats, barley, rye and rice are commonly available cereals that can be eaten as wholegrains.

This means cereal products consisting of oats and oatmeal, like porridge, and wholewheat products are healthy breakfast options.

Barley, couscous, corn and tapioca also count as healthy cereal products.

Many cereal products in the US are refined, with low wholegrain content. They can also be high in added salt and sugar.

When you’re shopping for cereals, check the food labels to compare different products.

Rice and grains

Rice and grains are an excellent choice of starchy food. They give you energy, are low in fat, and good value for money.

There are many types to choose from, including:

  • all kinds of rice – such as quick-cook, arborio, basmati, long grain, brown, short grain and wild rice
  • couscous
  • bulgur wheat

As well as carbohydrates, rice and grains (particularly brown and wholegrain versions) can contain:

  • fiber – which can help the body get rid of waste products
  • B vitamins – which help release energy from the food we eat and help the body work properly

Rice and grains, such as couscous and bulgur wheat, can be eaten hot or cold and in salads.

There are a few precautions you should take when storing and reheating cooked rice and grains. This is because the spores of some food poisoning bugs can survive cooking.

If cooked rice or grains are left standing at room temperature, the spores can germinate. The bacteria multiply and produce toxins that can cause vomiting and diarrhea. Reheating food won’t get rid of the toxins.

It’s therefore best to serve rice and grains when they’ve just been cooked. If this isn’t possible, cool them within an hour after cooking and keep them refrigerated until reheating or using in a cold dish.

It’s important to throw away any rice and grains that have been left at room temperature overnight.

If you aren’t going to eat rice immediately, refrigerate it within one hour and eat within 24 hours.

Rice should be reheated thoroughly, reaching a core temperature of 70C for two minutes (or equivalent) so it’s steaming hot throughout.

Rice shouldn’t be reheated more than once – it should be discarded. Don’t reheat rice unless it’s been chilled down safely and kept in the fridge until you reheat it.

Follow the “use by” date and storage instructions on the label for any cold rice or grain salads that you buy.

Pasta in your diet

Pasta is another healthy option to base your meal on. It consists of dough made from durum wheat and water, and contains iron and B vitamins.

Wholewheat or wholegrain are healthier alternatives to ordinary pasta, as they contain more fiber. We digest wholegrain foods more slowly, so they can help us feel full for longer.

Dried pasta can be stored in a cupboard and typically has a long shelf life, while fresh pasta will need to be refrigerated and has a shorter lifespan.

Check the food packaging for “best before” or “use by” dates and further storage instructions.

Fruit and vegetables

Fruit and vegetables are a vital source of vitamins and minerals and should make up just over a third of the food you eat each day. It’s advised that you eat at least five portions of a variety of fruit and vegetables every day.

There’s evidence that people who eat at least five portions a day have a lower risk of heart disease, stroke and some cancers.

Eating five portions is not as hard as it sounds. Just one apple, banana, pear or similar-sized fruit is one portion (80g). A slice of pineapple or melon is one portion. Three heaped tablespoons of vegetables is another portion.

Having a sliced banana with your morning cereal is a quick way to get one portion. Swap your mid-morning biscuit for a tangerine, and add a side salad to your lunch. Have a portion of vegetables with dinner, and snack on fresh fruit with natural plain yogurt in the evening to reach your daily fruit and vegetable requirement.

Milk and dairy foods: go for lower-fat varieties

Milk and dairy foods such as cheese and yoghurt are good sources of protein. They also contain calcium, which helps keep your bones healthy.

To enjoy the health benefits of dairy without eating too much fat, use semi-skimmed, 1% fat or skimmed milk, as well as lower-fat hard cheeses or cottage cheese, and lower-fat, lower-sugar yogurt. Unsweetened, calcium-fortified dairy alternatives like soya milks, soya yogurts and soya cheeses also count as part of this food group and can make good alternatives to dairy products.

Beans, pulses, fish, eggs, meat and other proteins

These foods are all good sources of protein, which is essential for the body to grow and repair itself. They are also good sources of a range of vitamins and minerals.

Meat is a good source of protein, vitamins and minerals, including iron, zinc and B vitamins. It is also one of the main sources of vitamin B12. Try to eat lean cuts of meat and skinless poultry whenever possible to cut down on fat. Always cook meat thoroughly. Learn more by reading our page on meat.

Fish is another important source of protein, and contains many vitamins and minerals. Oily fish is particularly rich in omega-3 fatty acids.

Aim for at least two portions of fish a week, including one portion of oily fish. You can choose from fresh, frozen or canned, but remember that canned and smoked fish can often be high in salt.

Eggs and pulses (including beans, nuts and seeds) are also great sources of protein. Nuts are high in fiber and a good alternative to snacks high in saturated fat, but they do still contain high levels of fat, so eat them in moderation.

Truth about Sugar

Worst carbs – How does sugar in your diet affect your health ?

Eating too much sugar can make you gain weight and can also cause tooth decay.

The type of sugars most adults and children in the US eat too much of are “free sugars”. These are:

  • Any sugars added to food or drinks. These include sugars in biscuits, chocolate, flavoured yoghurts, breakfast cereals and fizzy drinks. These sugars may be added at home, or by a chef or other food manufacturer.
  • Sugars in honey, syrups (such as maple, agave and golden), nectars (such as blossom), and unsweetened fruit juices, vegetable juices and smoothies. The sugars in these foods occur naturally but still count as free sugars.

Sugar found naturally in milk, fruit and vegetables doesn’t count as free sugars. We don’t need to cut down on these sugars, but remember that they are included in the “total sugar” figure found on food labels.

“Sugar is sugar,” whether it’s white, brown, unrefined sugar, molasses or honey, don’t kid yourself: there is no such thing as a healthy sugar.

Your weight and sugar

Eating too much sugar can contribute to people having too many calories, which can lead to weight gain. Being overweight increases your risk of health problems such as heart disease, some cancers and type 2 diabetes.

For a healthy, balanced diet, we should get most of our calories from other kinds of foods, such as starchy foods (wholegrain where possible) and fruits and vegetables, and only eat foods high in free sugars occasionally or not at all.

Tooth decay and sugar

Sugar is one of the main causes of tooth decay.

To prevent tooth decay, reduce the amount of food and drinks you have that contain free sugars – such as sweets, chocolates, cakes, biscuits, sugary breakfast cereals, jams, honey, fruit smoothies and dried fruit – and limit them to mealtimes.

The sugars found naturally in fruit and vegetables are less likely to cause tooth decay, because they are contained within the structure. But when fruit and vegetables are juiced or blended into a smoothie, the sugars are released. Once released, these sugars can damage teeth.

Limit the amount of fruit juice and smoothies you drink to a maximum of 150ml (a small glass) in total per day, and drink it with meals to reduce the risk of tooth decay.

Squashes sweetened with sugar, fizzy drinks, soft drinks and juice drinks have no place in a child’s daily diet. If you’re looking after children, swap any sugary drinks for water, lower-fat milk or sugar-free drinks.

Dried fruit and your teeth

It’s better for your teeth to eat dried fruit as part of a meal, such as added to your breakfast cereal, tagines and stews, or as part of a healthy dessert – a baked apple with raisins, for example – and not as a between-meal snack.

How much sugar can you eat ?

The health department recommends that free sugars – sugars added to food or drinks, and sugars found naturally in honey, syrups, and unsweetened fruit and vegetable juices, smoothies and purées – shouldn’t make up more than 5% of the energy (calories) you get from food and drink each day.

Table 1. Current Guidelines for Sugar Intake

US Department of Agriculture and
US Department of Health and Human Services (2015-2020)
Limit consumption of added sugars to <10% of calories per day
World Health Organization (March 2015)Restrict added sugar consumption to <10% of daily calories
American Heart Association (2009)Limit added sugars to 5% of daily calories (for women, 100 calories/day; for men, 150 calories/day)

The American Heart Association 2 recommends no more than half of your daily discretionary calorie allowance come from added sugars. Your daily discretionary calorie allowance consists of calories available after meeting nutrient needs. This is no more than 100 calories per day for most American women and no more than 150 per day for men (or about 6 teaspoons a day for women and 9 teaspoons a day for men).

This means:

  • Adults should have no more than 30g of free sugars a day, (roughly equivalent to seven sugar cubes).
  • Children aged 7 to 10 should have no more than 24g of free sugars a day (six sugar cubes).
  • Children aged 4 to 6 should have no more than 19g of free sugars a day (five sugar cubes).
  • There is no guideline limit for children under the age of 4, but it’s recommended they avoid sugar-sweetened drinks and food with sugar added to it. Find out more about what to feed young children.

Free sugars are found in foods such as sweets, cakes, biscuits, chocolate, and some fizzy drinks and juice drinks. These are the sugary foods we should cut down on. For example, a can of cola can have as much as nine cubes of sugar – more than the recommended daily limit for adults.

Top sources of added sugar in your diet

From cola, chocolate and ketchup to beer, yogurt and soup, find out where most of the added sugar in your diet lurks.

“Added sugar”, such as table sugar, honey and syrups, should not make up more than 5% of the total energy you get from food and drink each day. This is around 30g a day of added sugar for anyone aged 11 and older.

If you want to cut down on sugar, get used to reading food labels, comparing products, and choosing lower-sugar or sugar-free versions.

Products are considered to either be high or low in sugar if they fall above or below the following thresholds:

  • high: more than 22.5g of total sugars per 100g
  • medium: more than 5g but less than or equal to 22.5g of sugar per 100g
  • low: 5g or less of total sugars per 100g

If the amount of sugars per 100g is between these figures, that is regarded as a medium level.

Figure 1. Carbohydrate and sugar content food label

sugar content - food label

The “Total Sugars” figure describes the total amount of sugars from all sources – free sugars, plus those from milk, and those present in fruit and vegetables.

For example, plain yogurt may contain as much as 8g per serving, but none of these are free sugars, as they all come from milk.

The same applies to an individual portion of fruit. An apple might contain around 11g of total sugar, depending on the size of the fruit selected, the variety and the stage of ripeness. However, sugar in fruit is not considered free sugars unless the fruit is juiced or puréed.

This means food containing fruit or milk will be a healthier choice than one containing lots of free sugars, even if the two products contain the same total amount of sugar. You can tell if the food contains lots of added sugars by checking the ingredients list.

Sometimes you will see a figure just for “Carbohydrate” and not for “Carbohydrate (of which sugars)”. The “Carbohydrate” figure will also include starchy carbohydrates, so you can’t use it to work out the sugar content. In this instance, check the ingredients list to see if the food is high in added sugar.

Ingredients list

You can get an idea of whether a food is high in free sugars by looking at the ingredients list on the packaging.

Sugars added to foods and drinks must be included in the ingredients list, which always starts with the ingredient that there’s the most of. This means that if you see sugar near the top of the list, the food is likely to be high in free sugars.

Watch out for other words used to describe the sugars added to food and drinks, such as cane sugar, honey, brown sugar, high-fructose corn syrup, fruit juice concentrate/purées, corn syrup, fructose, sucrose, glucose, crystalline sucrose, nectars (such as blossom), maple and agave syrups, dextrose, maltose, molasses and treacle.

No added sugar or unsweetened

  • “No added sugar” or “unsweetened” refer to sugar or sweeteners that are added as ingredients. They do not mean that the food contains no sugar.

The ingredients lists on food products with “no added sugar” and “unsweetened” labels will tell you what ingredients have been used, including what types of sweetener and sugar. You can often find information about how much sugar there is in the food in the nutrition label.

No added sugar

  • This usually means that the food has not had sugar added to it as an ingredient.

A food that has “no added sugar” might still taste sweet and can still contain sugar.

  • Sugars occur naturally in food such as fruit and milk. But you don’t need to cut down on these types of sugar: it is food containing added sugars that youe should be cutting down on.

Just because a food contains “no added sugar”, this does not necessarily mean it has a low sugar content. The food may contain ingredients that have a naturally high sugar content (such as fruit), or have added milk, which contains lactose, a type of sugar that occurs naturally in milk.


This usually means that no sugar or sweetener has been added to the food to make it taste sweet. This doesn’t necessarily mean that the food will not contain naturally occurring sugars found in fruit or milk.

Sugar by Any Other Name

You don’t always see the word “sugar” on a food label. It sometimes goes by another name, like these:

  • White sugar
  • Brown sugar
  • Raw sugar
  • Agave nectar
  • Brown rice syrup
  • Corn syrup
  • Corn syrup solids
  • Coconut sugar
  • Coconut palm sugar
  • High-fructose corn syrup
  • Invert sugar
  • Dextrose
  • Anhydrous dextrose
  • Crystal dextrose
  • Dextrin
  • Evaporated cane juice
  • Fructose sweetener
  • Liquid fructose
  • Glucose
  • Lactose
  • Honey
  • Malt syrup
  • Maple syrup
  • Molasses
  • Pancake syrup
  • Sucrose
  • Trehalose
  • Turbinado sugar
  • Isoglucose
  • Levulose

Watch out for items that list any form of sugar in the first few ingredients, or have more than 4 total grams of sugar.

Below are the six main sources of added sugar in the American diet according to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) 1, with examples of some of the main sweet offenders.

Sugar, preserves and confectionery

  • Up to 27% of your daily intake of added sugar

Americans have a sweet tooth. A large chunk of the added sugar in your daily diet (up to 27%) comes from table sugar, jams, chocolate and sweets, with chocolate regularly voted American’s favorite sweet treat. Sugar intake is highest among children aged 11 to 18 years.

Sweet offenders:

  • chocolate spread (57.1g of total sugar per 100g)
  • plain chocolate (62.6g/100g)
  • fruit pastilles (59.3g/100g)

Non-alcoholic drinks

  • 25% of your daily intake of added sugar

Perhaps the most surprising source, nearly a quarter (25%) of the added sugar in our diet comes from soft drinks, fruit juice, and other non-alcoholic drinks.

The levels are even higher among children aged 11 to 18 years, who get 40% of their added sugar from drinks – mainly soft drinks, such as cola.

A 500ml bottle of cola contains the equivalent of 17 cubes of sugar. Perhaps more surprising, 100% pure unsweetened fruit juice is high in the type of sugars we need to cut down on. This is because the juicing process releases the sugars contained in the fruit, meaning they can damage our teeth.

Fruit juice contains vitamins and minerals, so one glass (150ml) of unsweetened 100% fruit juice counts towards the 5% of the total energy (calories) intake. To reduce the risk of tooth decay, fruit juice is best enjoyed at mealtimes.

Children should avoid sugary drinks and swap to water, lower-fat milks, and diet, sugar-free and no-added sugar drinks.

Sweet offenders:

  • cola (10.9g/100ml)
  • squash cordials (24.6g/100ml)
  • sweetened fruit juice (9.8g/100ml)

Biscuits, buns and cakes

  • 20% of our daily intake of added sugar

America is a nation of “grazers”, preferring to fill up on something that’s quick and comforting, but often high in sugar and fat, such as buns, pastries, biscuits, and other cereal-based foods.

While cereal-based products, especially wholegrains, form part of a healthy balanced diet, try to cut down on varieties high in sugar and fat, which can increase the risk of tooth decay and contribute to weight gain if eaten in excess.

Sweet offenders:

  • iced cakes (54g/100g)
  • chocolate-coated biscuits (45.8g/100g)
  • frosted corn flakes (37g/100g)

Alcoholic drinks

  • 11% of our daily intake of added sugar

Some people are unaware of the sugar content in alcohol and don’t include booze when calculating their daily calorie intake.

Alcohol contains more calories (7kcal/g) than carbohydrates or protein (4kcal/g). A standard glass of wine (175ml, 12% ABV, 126kcal) can contain as many calories as a piece of chocolate.

Wine, beer, cider, spirits and all your favorite drinks are made from natural starch and sugar. Fermentation, and distillation for certain drinks, is used to produce the alcohol content.

This helps explain why alcohol contains lots of calories – seven calories a gram in fact, almost as many as a gram of fat. And, of course, additional calories can be present in added mixer drinks.

The average wine drinker in America takes in around 2,000kcal from alcohol every month.

Drinking five pints of lager a week adds up to 44,200kcal over a year, equivalent to eating 221 doughnuts.

Table 2. Alcohol calories

DrinkCalories (kcal)Food equivalent
A standard glass (175ml) of 12% wine126kcal1 Cadbury Chocolate Mini Roll
A pint of 5% strength beer215kcal1 packet of McCoy’s salted crisps
A glass (50ml) of (17%) cream liqueur118kcal1 Milky Way bar
A standard bottle (330ml) of 5% alcopop237kcal3 Lees teacakes
A double measure (50ml) of 17.5% fortified wine65kcal1 Asda bourbon biscuit

Tips on cutting down:

  • have a few alcohol-free days each week
  • try lower-alcohol drinks
  • have a smaller bottle of beer instead of a can
  • use sugar-free mixers
  • swap every other drink for a water or sugar-free soft drink

Dairy products

  • 6% of our daily intake of added sugar

Dairy products like cheese and yoghurt form part of a healthy balanced diet. But some dairy products, such as flavored milks, yogurts and dairy-based desserts like ice cream, contain added sugar.

Sweet offenders:

  • fruit yoghurt (16.6g/100g)
  • fruit fromage frais (13.3g/100g)
  • choc ice (20.5g/100g)

Savory food

  • 5% of our daily intake of added sugar

Sugar is also found in surprisingly large amounts in many savory foods, such as stir-in sauces, ketchup, salad cream, ready meals, marinades, chutneys, and crisps. A study found some ready meals had more sugar content than vanilla ice cream.

Sweet offenders:

  • tomato ketchup (27.5g/100g)
  • stir-in sweet and sour sauce (20.2g/100g)
  • salad cream (16.7g/100g)

Tips to cut down on sugars

For a healthy, balanced diet, cut down on food and drinks containing free sugars.

These tips can help you to cut down:

Reducing sugar in drinks

  • Instead of sugary fizzy drinks or sugary squash, go for water, lower-fat milk, or sugar-free, diet or no-added-sugar drinks. While the amount of sugar in whole and lower-fat milk is the same, choosing lower-fat milk reduces your saturated fat intake.
  • Even unsweetened fruit juices and smoothies are sugary, so limit the amount you have to no more than 150ml a day.
  • If you prefer fizzy drinks, try diluting no-added-sugar squash with sparkling water.
  • If you take sugar in hot drinks or add sugar to your breakfast cereal, gradually reduce the amount until you can cut it out altogether. Alternatively, switch to a sweetener.

Reducing sugar in food

  • Rather than spreading high-sugar jam, marmalade, syrup, chocolate spread or honey on your toast, try a lower-fat spread, reduced-sugar jam or fruit spread, sliced banana or lower-fat cream cheese instead.
  • Check nutrition labels to help you pick the foods with less added sugar, or go for the reduced- or lower-sugar version.
  • Try reducing the sugar you use in your recipes. It works for most things except jam, meringues and ice cream.
  • Choose tins of fruit in juice rather than syrup.
  • Choose unsweetened wholegrain breakfast cereals that aren’t frosted, or coated with chocolate or honey.
  • Choose unsweetened cereal and try adding some fruit for sweetness. Sliced bananas, dried fruit and berries are all good options.

What are the best carbs for bodybuilding

While it is true that resistance training utilizes glycogen as its main fuel source 3, total caloric expenditure of strength athletes is less than that of mixed sport and endurance athletes. Thus, authors of a recent review recommend that carbohydrate intakes for strength sports, including bodybuilding, be between 4–7 g/kg depending on the phase of training 4. However, in the specific case of a bodybuilder in contest preparation, achieving the necessary caloric deficit while consuming adequate protein and fat would likely not allow consumption at the higher end of this recommendation.

Satiety and fat loss generally improve with lower carbohydrate diets; specifically with higher protein to carbohydrate ratios 5, 6. In terms of performance and health, low carbohydrate diets are not necessarily as detrimental as typically espoused 7. In a recent review, it was recommended for strength athletes training in a calorically restricted state to reduce carbohydrate content while increasing protein to maximize fat oxidation and preserve lean body mass (LBM) 8. However, the optimal reduction of carbohydrate and point at which carbohydrate reduction becomes detrimental likely needs to be determined individually.

While it appears low carbohydrate, high protein diets can be effective for weight loss, a practical carbohydrate threshold appears to exist where further reductions negatively impact performance and put one at risk for lean body mass losses. In support of this notion, researchers studying bodybuilders during the final 11 weeks of contest preparation concluded that had they increased carbohydrate during the final weeks of their diet they may have mitigated metabolic and hormonal adaptations that were associated with reductions in lean body mass (LBM) 9.

Therefore, once a competitor has reached or has nearly reached the desired level of leanness, it may be a viable strategy to reduce the caloric deficit by an increase in carbohydrate. For example, if a competitor has reached competition body fat levels (lacking any visible subcutaneous fat) and is losing half a kilogram per week (approximately a 500 kcals caloric deficit), carbohydrate could be increased by 25-50 g, thereby reducing the caloric deficit by 100-200 kcals in an effort to maintain performance and lean body mass. However, it should be noted that like losses of lean body mass, decrements in performance may not affect the competitive outcome for a bodybuilder. It is possible that competitors who reach the leanest condition may experience unavoidable drops in performance.

Table 3. Dietary recommendations for bodybuilding contest preparation

Diet componentRecommendation
Protein (g/kg of lean body mass)
Fat (% of total calories)
Carbohydrate (% of total calories)
Weekly weight loss (% of body weight)0.5-1%
[Source 10]

Note: It must be noted that there is a high degree of variability in the way that individuals respond to diets. If training performance degrades it may prove beneficial to decrease the percentage of calories from dietary fat within these ranges in favor of a greater proportion of carbohydrate. Finally, while outside of the norm, some competitors may find that they respond better to diets that are higher in fat and lower in carbohydrate than recommended in this review. Therefore, monitoring of individual response over a competitive career is suggested. There is no evidence of any relationships with bone structure or regional subcutaneous fat distribution with any response to specific macronutrient ratios in bodybuilders or athletic populations. Bodybuilders, like others athletes, most likely operate best on balanced macronutrient intakes tailored to the energy demands of their sport 11. While the majority of competitors will respond best to the fat and carbohydrate guidelines proposed, the occasional competitor will undoubtedly respond better to a diet that falls outside of these suggested ranges. Careful monitoring over the course of a competitive career is required to determine the optimal macronutrient ratio for pre-contest dieting.

Timing and consumption of protein and/or carbohydrate during workouts

Questions remain about the utility of consuming protein and/or carbohydrate during bodybuilding-oriented training bouts. Since these bouts typically do not resemble endurance bouts lasting 2 hours or more, nutrient consumption during training is not likely to yield any additional performance-enhancing or muscle -sparing benefits if proper pre-workout nutrition is in place. In the exceptional case of resistance training sessions that approach or exceed two hours of exhaustive, continuous work, it might be prudent to employ tactics that maximize endurance capacity while minimizing muscle damage. This would involve approximately 8–15 g protein co-ingested with 30–60 g carbohydrate in a 6-8% solution per hour of training 12. Nutrient timing is an intriguing area of study that focuses on what might clinch the competitive edge. In terms of practical application to resistance training bouts of typical length, Aragon and Schoenfeld 13 recently suggested a protein dose corresponding with 0.4-0.5 g/kg bodyweight consumed at both the pre- and post-exercise periods. However, for objectives relevant to bodybuilding, the current evidence indicates that the global macronutrient composition of the diet is likely the most important nutritional variable related to chronic training adaptations. Table 4 below provides a continuum of importance with bodybuilding-specific context for nutrient timing.

Table 4. Continuum of nutrient & supplement timing importance

timing of nutrient and supplements during a workout session
[Source 10] References
  1. National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.
  2. American Heart Association – Sugar Intake –
  3. Muscle substrate utilization and lactate production. MacDougall JD, Ray S, Sale DG, McCartney N, Lee P, Garner S. Can J Appl Physiol. 1999 Jun; 24(3):209-15.
  4. Nutrition guidelines for strength sports: sprinting, weightlifting, throwing events, and bodybuilding. Slater G, Phillips SM. J Sports Sci. 2011; 29 Suppl 1():S67-77.
  5. A reduced ratio of dietary carbohydrate to protein improves body composition and blood lipid profiles during weight loss in adult women. Layman DK, Boileau RA, Erickson DJ, Painter JE, Shiue H, Sather C, Christou DD. J Nutr. 2003 Feb; 133(2):411-7.
  6. Energy expenditure, satiety, and plasma ghrelin, glucagon-like peptide 1, and peptide tyrosine-tyrosine concentrations following a single high-protein lunch. Smeets AJ, Soenen S, Luscombe-Marsh ND, Ueland Ø, Westerterp-Plantenga MS. J Nutr. 2008 Apr; 138(4):698-702.
  7. Low-carbohydrate diets and performance. Cook CM, Haub MD. Curr Sports Med Rep. 2007 Jul; 6(4):225-9.
  8. Dietary protein for athletes: from requirements to optimum adaptation. Phillips SM, Van Loon LJ. J Sports Sci. 2011; 29 Suppl 1():S29-38.
  9. Anabolic and catabolic hormones and energy balance of the male bodybuilders during the preparation for the competition. Mäestu J, Eliakim A, Jürimäe J, Valter I, Jürimäe T. J Strength Cond Res. 2010 Apr; 24(4):1074-81.
  10. Helms ER, Aragon AA, Fitschen PJ. Evidence-based recommendations for natural bodybuilding contest preparation: nutrition and supplementation. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. 2014;11:20. doi:10.1186/1550-2783-11-20.
  11. A perspective on fat intake in athletes. Pendergast DR, Leddy JJ, Venkatraman JT. J Am Coll Nutr. 2000 Jun; 19(3):345-50.
  12. International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand: nutrient timing. Kerksick C, Harvey T, Stout J, Campbell B, Wilborn C, Kreider R, Kalman D, Ziegenfuss T, Lopez H, Landis J, Ivy JL, Antonio J. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2008 Oct 3; 5():17.
  13. Aragon AA, Schoenfeld BJ. Nutrient timing revisited: is there a post-exercise anabolic window? J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2013;10:5. doi: 10.1186/1550-2783-10-5.
Health Jade Team

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