What Are Total Carbohydrates?

One serving of pasta is equivalent to 1/3 cup.
One serving of pasta is equivalent to 1/3 cup. (Image: Pasta image by Yvonne Bogdanski from Fotolia.com)

Total carbohydrates are listed on food labels, along with the calories, fat, sodium and sugar contents. Total carbohydrates include grams of sugar, complex carbohydrates and fiber. Sugars are simple carbohydrates and complex carbohydrates are other food sources that the body breaks down into energy. All three components play a part in calculating the right amount of carbohydrates needed to fuel our bodies.


Total carbohydrates are the number of grams (rounded to the nearest gram) in a single serving. If there is less than 1 gram, it is labeled as containing less than 1 gram. If there is less than half a gram, it is labeled as 0 grams. Title 21 of the Code of Federal Regulations states total carbohydrates are calculated by adding the amount of crude protein, fat, moisture and ash, then subtracting that total from the food weight.


Carbohydrates are the body's primary source of energy. They also contribute to blood glucose levels. The American Diabetes Association focuses on cutting carbohydrates, not just sugar levels. Remember that a product advertised as "sugar free" is not necessarily low in carbohydrates, and your body turns excess carbohydrates into sugar.


Natural food sources for carbohydrates are fruits, vegetables, grains and dairy products such as milk and yogurt. Carbohydrates are also abundant in starches such as breads, beans, potatoes and rice. Since sugar, fiber and carbohydrates all contribute to the total carbohydrate count, read food labels when choosing products. Foods low in sugar, such as cereal, are still high in carbohydrates.


Control your portions. The food exchange list published by the American Diabetes Association considers one serving of starches to be 15 grams of carbohydrates. For example, one slice of bread or 1/3 cup rice are each equal to one serving. The American Diabetes Association recommends three to four servings of carbohydrates at each meal and about one to two servings for a snack. It also recommends adults consume 25-30 g of fiber daily.

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