Figuring Out Your Carb Intake Target

By Sherri Shafer

The Dietary Reference Intakes (DRI) for Americans minimum for carbohydrate is 130 grams per day, and the suggested carb intake range is calculated at 45–65 percent of caloric targets. Some people with diabetes opt to go somewhat lower, such as 40 percent. Targets should be individualized based on preference and health considerations.

After you’ve estimated your caloric needs or by using an online calorie calculator, you’re ready to use the chart in the following figure to estimate carbohydrate intake targets. Find your desired calorie level in the left column. Decide what percentage of your daily calories you want to allocate to carbohydrate as indicated along the top row, from 40–65 percent. (Note the suggested minimum carb intake per DRI guidelines is 130 grams per day, so the table doesn’t go below that number.)

diabetes-carb-intake-target
Daily carb intake targets by calorie levels.

If your blood-glucose levels are running above target, it may be wise to choose a lower level of carb until control improves. Gaining control of your diabetes may require diet modifications, exercise, and medications. Once medications are properly adjusted, start with 45–50 percent of daily calories as carbs. If you prefer a lower carb intake, 40–50 percent is fine. The lowest carb intake in the table is 130 grams per day to comply with the minimum dietary intake recommended by the National Institutes of Health. If you’re active and can control blood-glucose levels while eating more carbs, then you may aim for carb intakes of 50–55 percent of calories. It may be difficult to control blood-glucose levels with 60–65 percent of your calories from carb unless you are an athlete who is getting a lot of exercise.

Here’s an example: Consider a moderately active person who wants to eat 1,600 calories each day and opts for 40–50 percent of calories to come from carbs. Locate the 1,600-calorie level in the far left column. Find the column headings for 40–50 percent. Line up the horizontal 1,600 calorie line with the vertical 40–50 percent columns. The daily carb intake goal would be 160–200 grams. Blood-glucose levels will be best controlled if the carbs are budgeted between meals and snacks.