How many carbs should you eat a day? We spoke with an expert.

Carbohydrates, or carbs, are essential for life. They are converted into glucose, which the body uses to create the energy required to carry out all of its necessary functions.

So why do some people avoid carbs like an ex-boyfriend or a distant acquaintance from high school that you pretend not to see in public?

That's because many people believe eating too many carbohydrates means consuming too much sugar, which can cause problems like weight gain and diabetes.

So, how many carbs should we eat in a day?

We spoke with Dr. Julie Chen, an internal medicine physician with Kaiser Permanente in Gaithersburg, Maryland, to find out the best way to utilize this vital energy source while protecting our bodies from some of the adverse effects of too many carbs.

How do I calculate how many carbs I need daily?

It depends.

“The amount of carbohydrates you should be eating per day depends on your age, gender, metabolism, activity level and overall health,” explains Chen. “For most adults, a guideline for the daily amount of carbs is approximately 45 to 60 grams at each meal (equivalent to 3 to 4 carbohydrate servings),” she adds.

Chen gives some examples of a meal and snack with a healthy amount of carbohydrates and other essential nutrients:

  • Grilled chicken breast (0g carbs) with 1 cup of cooked brown rice (45g carbs, equivalent to 3 carbohydrate servings) and steamed vegetables (negligible carbs).

  • For a snack, 15 to 20 grams (equivalent to 1 carbohydrate serving) could look like 1 medium-sized apple (15g carbs) with 2 tablespoons of peanut butter (7g carbs).

How many carbs should you eat per day to lose weight?

It depends on many factors, like age, sex, activity level and body size. If the goal is to lose weight, you want to be in a calorie deficit, meaning you are consuming fewer calories than what your body needs to carry out its functions, forcing it to use stored calories/energy in your fat. Carbohydrates have 4 calories per gram, as do proteins – but a serving of carbohydrates tends to have more grams than a serving of dense protein. This can be hard to visualize, so let’s use an example:

  • One serving of rice (one cup or 128 grams) is 206 calories.

  • One serving of cooked, skinless chicken (2-2.5 ounces or 70 grams) is 110 calories.

It’s important to be cognizant of how many carbs you are eating, as sometimes it can be sneaky. For example, a can of soda can have up to 40 or more grams of carbohydrates. But it’s also important to note that carbs aren’t the enemy – you need them for your body to perform.

Study finds: People with diabetes lived longer on lower carb and plant-based diet

More: Can apple cider vinegar help with weight loss? The health benefits explained.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Carbs and weight loss: How much is the right amount for adults?