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Balancing Carbohydrate and Protein Intake In Your Diet

Fitday Editor

Most diets include more carbohydrates than protein, which is fine as long as you eat enough protein. But even then, eating adequate protein may not be enough to assure optimal muscle synthesis. Optimal muscle synthesis is important for your strength and bone protection, but can also help in weight loss. On the other hand, adequate and consistent carbohydrates are important for your brain function as well as maintaining a healthy metabolism, energy and blood sugar levels.

According to a 2014 study published in The Journal of Nutrition, not only do you need to eat enough protein for optimal muscle synthesis, you may also need to be eating the same amount of protein at each meal. To balance proteins and carbohydrates in your diet, spread your total daily proteins and carbohydrates equally over the course of the day. The Food and Nutrition Board of the Institute of Medicine recommends 45 to 65 percent of your calories from carbohydrate foods per day and 10 to 35 percent of your calories from protein foods per day. Speak with your dietitian about your exact numbers.

First identify proteins and carbohydrates. Protein foods include meat, poultry, fish, beans, nuts, seeds, eggs, and cheese. Carbohydrates include fruits, vegetables, and starches or grains. Note that beans and dairy or dairy alternatives contain both protein and carbohydrates with the exception of cheese which does not contain significant carbohydrate.

Each protein serving is about seven grams of protein:

  • one ounce of lean meat, poultry or fish
  • one egg or 2 egg whites or 1/4 cup of egg substitute
  • one-half cup of beans or lentils
  • one-fourth cup of nuts
  • one ounce of cheese

Each carbohydrate serving is about 15 grams of carbohydrate:

  • one-third cup of rice
  • one-half cup of pasta
  • one tortilla
  • one-half cup cooked cereal such as oatmeal or cream of wheat
  • one slice of bread
  • one-half cup of fresh fruit or fruit juice
  • one-fourth cup dried fruit
  • three cups raw vegetables
  • one and a half cups cooked vegetables
For dairy and dairy alternatives, read the label to find out how much is a serving of protein and carbohydrates.
Now that you know how much is a serving of protein and carbohydrates, evenly distribute your foods at each meal. For example, if you need 60 grams of protein and 135 grams of carbohydrates daily, you would have 20 grams of protein and 45 grams of carbohydrates at breakfast, lunch and dinner. For breakfast have an omelet: two eggs, one and a half cup cooked vegetables and one-half cup of oatmeal with one-fourth cup of nuts and one-fourth cup dried fruit in it. Come lunchtime, have a sandwich with two slices of bread, two ounces of chicken breast, one ounce of cheese, and a salad with dressing. If your dressing has carbohydrates in it, account for that and maybe have only one slice of bread or less salad. At dinner time, you could have one-half cup cooked pasta with pasta sauce - read the label for carbohydrate content - one and a half cup cooked vegetables, and three ounces of lean meat.
While trying to balance carbohydrates and protein, also keep in mind you want to eat a variety of foods to obtain adequate nutrition. Eating balanced meals can help you lose weight, feel more energy and obtain better overall nutrition.


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Jamie Yacoub, M.P.H., R.D., is the author of Modern Guide to Food and Eating: Low Glycemic Recipes and has been in the healthcare field since 2010. She graduated from the University of California at Davis with a Bachelor's of Science in Clinical Nutrition, and received her Master's of Public Health in Nutrition from Loma Linda University. She currently works as an outpatient clinical dietitian and a writer. She has experience in all fields of nutrition working with a variety of demographic groups and is an expert in the field.

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