Daily Carb Intake for Weight Loss
Although carbs don’t have the best reputation among some dieting communities, you don’t have to avoid carbs to successfully shed pounds. In fact, getting too few carbs can drain your energy – and therefore hinder your weight-loss efforts. Following general carb recommendations, while reducing your overall calorie intake, is the key to safely dropping weight.
Some low-carb weight-loss diets contain as few as 20 grams of carbohydrates per day, at least initially. However, meeting your carbohydrate recommended dietary allowance, or RDA, gives your body the fuel it needs to function properly — and helps you avoid negative side effects associated with low-carb diets, such as weakness, fatigue, dizziness and headaches. The Institute of Medicine reports that the carbohydrate RDA is 130 grams daily for adult men and non-pregnant, non-nursing women.
Effective weight loss often requires reducing your current intake by 500 to 1,000 calories daily, notes the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Recommended overall calorie intakes for weight loss range from 1,000 to 1,600 calories daily for women and 1,200 to 1,600 calories a day for many men, according to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. Individualized calorie needs for weight loss vary based on your initial body weight and activity level. Burning an extra 500 to 1,000 calories a day means you may not have to reduce your calorie intake to shed pounds.
Eat More Protein
One reason some low-carb, high-protein diets work for weight loss is because of elevated protein intakes, according to a study published in 2012 in “Physiology & Behavior.” Protein is a key component of weight loss because it increases satiety and energy expenditure, report researchers who conducted a study published in 2009 in “The Journal of Nutrition.” Though protein-rich foods – such as lean meats, egg whites and soy products – are helpful for reducing your calorie intake for successful weight loss, meeting your minimum carb requirements of 130 grams daily is also important to prevent nutrient deficiencies and fatigue.
Though it’s fine to cut out unhealthy carbs – such as added sugars, sweets, candy, sodas and other sugary drinks – many carb-containing foods are packed with essential nutrients your body requires on a day-to-day basis. Examples include fiber-rich nuts, seeds, legumes, whole grains and vegetables. Fiber is a type of carb that boosts satiety and isn’t entirely absorbed by your body. Low-fat milk is another source of healthy carbs, protein and calcium.
How Many Carbs Should You Eat Per Day to Lose Weight?
The low carbohydrate diet has been the topic of much controversy. One reason cutting carbs is so popular, however, is because it is a quick way of dropping the pounds.
Carbohydrates are the body’s main source of energy, as well as fuel for vital organs, such as the kidneys, central nervous system, and brain. Healthful carbs, such as so-called complex carbs, are necessary for the body to work optimally.
Carbohydrates are broken down into a simple form of energy called glucose. The body uses insulinto carry the glucose into the cells. When too many carbohydrates are consumed, the blood sugar level spikes, insulin rises, and the result of this is often weight gain.
In this article, we take a look at how many carbs someone needs to eat to lose weight, and whether or not a low-carb diet is healthful? We also examine the best and worst sources of carbohydrates to eat.
What is a low-carb diet?
Low-carb diets may lead to rapid weight loss, but there could be side effects.
Low-carb diets restrict the number of calories a person gets by limiting their carbohydrate food sources. This includes both good and bad carbs. Low-carb diets tend to be higher in proteins and fats to compensate.
Carbohydrates are the body’s main source of energy. If this supply is reduced, the body burns its stores of protein and fat for fuel.
Low-carb diets, such as the Atkins diet and the Dukan diet, have been found to lead to rapid weight loss. However, these diets are extreme and can have some unwanted side effects.
For most people, it may be healthier to take a more moderate approach when reducing carbohydrate intake to help lose weight.
How many carbs and calories should people eat to lose weight?
Although many studies indicate that low carb diets promote fast weight loss, often this reduction in weight is short-term.
Recent research supports the idea that high-quality nutrition does not just involve controlling calories that come from carbs. Instead, dieters should pay attention to how many calories are ingested from all food sources, including carbohydrates, protein, and fats, and find a healthy balance.
In a recent study, dieters were observed to compare the different weight losses that resulted from a low-fat diet (LFD) and a low-carb diet (LCD). The researchers found that after 6 months of following calorie-reduction diets, weight changes were similar for both the LFD and LCD groups.
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that an adult’s total daily calories come from the following:
• 45–65 percent carbohydrates
• 10–30 percent protein
• 20–35 percent fat
Some nutritionists recommend a ratio of 40 percent carbohydrates, 30 percent protein, and 30 percent fat as a good target for healthy weight loss.
A 1,500 calorie diet with 40 percent carbohydrates translates to 600 calories per day from carbs. Using a ratio of 4 calories per gram (g) of carbs, a person on this diet would need to eat 150 g of carbohydrates per day.
This 1,500 calorie diet would also include 450 calories or 112 g of protein, and 450 calories or 50 g of fat per day.
Carbohydrates 600 calories 150 g
Proteins 450 calories 112 g
Fats 450 calories 50 g
The exact breakdown of carbs, proteins, and fats in grams can be calculated using the United States government website, My Plate.com.
People should also be aware that everyone has slightly different needs when it comes to nutrients such as carbohydrates.
People’s specific needs will vary based on their height, weight, and activity levels. A diet that works for one person may not necessarily work for another.
As such, it is important for people to discuss any weight loss diet or calorie restrictions with a doctor before starting.
Good carbs vs. bad carbs
Carbohydrates are important to health as is staying at the correct weight. It is important to note that not all carbs are the same, however.
Carbohydrates are commonly referred to as either “good carbs” or “bad carbs.” When trying to follow a healthful diet, and especially when trying to lose weight, carbohydrate intake should focus on good carbs over bad carbs.
High-fiber vegetables, such as sweet potatoes, are an example of good carbs.
Good carbs are complex carbohydrates, which means they are high in fiber and nutrients and take longer to break down. As they take longer to break down, they do not cause blood sugar levels to spike or rise too high.
Examples of good carbs include:
• whole fruit with the skin on
• whole grains
• high-fiber vegetables, such as sweet potatoes
• high-fiber beans and legumes
Bad carbs are simple carbohydrates that are easily broken down and quickly cause blood sugar levels to spike.
Examples of bad carbs include:
• white sugar, bread, pasta, and flour
• sugary drinks and juices
• cakes, candy, and cookies
• other processed foods
The Zone diet: All you need to know
The Zone diet aims to maintain healthy insulin levels by reducing the intake of carbohydrates. Learn more about the Zone diet, its benefits, and disadvantages here.
Eating carbohydrates in their natural, high-fiber form is healthful. Processed foods that are high in white sugar and refined carbohydrates may lead to weight gain.
When counting calories from carbohydrates, ideal weight control can be obtained by observing a healthy ratio of complex carbohydrates, proteins, and healthful fats.
According to the U.S. Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the best way to lose weight is through a combination of dieting, exercising, and changing behavior or lifestyle. Registered dietitians can provide advice to anyone wishing to make changes to help them lose weight.
Anyone who is thinking of reducing their carb consumption and eating more protein and fat should monitor their saturated fat intake. Too much of this can increase cholesterol levels, as well as the risk of heart disease
Reducing the amount of carbs you eat is one of the best ways to lose weight.
It tends to reduce your appetite and cause “automatic” weight loss, without the need to count calories.
This means you can eat until fullness, feel satisfied and still lose weight.
Why Would You Want to Eat Fewer Carbs?
The dietary guidelines recommend that carbs provide 45 to 65 percent of your daily calorie intake.
So if you eat a 2000-calorie diet, you should aim for about 225 to 325 grams of carbs per day.
But if you need to lose weight, you will get much faster results eating around 50 to 150 grams of carbs.
In fact, a popular alternative called the low-carb diet has been shown to be much more effective for weight loss than the high-carb diet that has been recommended for the past few decades.
This diet restricts your intake of carbohydrates like sugars and starches (breads, pasta, etc.) and replaces them with protein, fat and healthy vegetables.
Studies show that low-carb diets reduce your appetite and make you eat fewer calories and lose weight pretty much effortlessly, as long as you manage to keep the carbs down (1).
In studies where low-carb and low-fat diets are compared, the researchers need to actively restrict calories in the low-fat groups to make the results comparable, but the low-carb groups still usually win (2, 3).
Low-carb diets also have benefits that go way beyond just weight loss. They lower blood sugar, blood pressure and triglycerides. They raise HDL (the good) and improve the pattern of LDL (the bad) cholesterol (4, 5).
Low-carb diets cause more weight loss and improve health more than the calorie restricted, low-fat diet still recommended by many people. This is pretty much a scientific fact at this point (6, 7, 8).
SUMMARY:There are many studies showing that low-carb diets are more effective and healthier than the low-fat diet that is still recommended by many people.
How to Figure Out Your Need For Carbohydrates
There is no clear definition of exactly what constitutes a “low carb diet” and what is “low” for one person may not be “low” for the next.
An individual’s optimal carb intake depends on age, gender, body composition, activity levels, personal preference, food culture and current metabolic health.
People who are physically active and have more muscle mass can tolerate a lot more carbs than people who are sedentary. This particularly applies to those who do a lot of high intensity exercise like lifting weights or sprinting.
Metabolic health is also a very important factor. When people get the metabolic syndrome, become obese or get type II diabetes, the rules change.
People who fall into this category can’t tolerate the same amount of carbs as those who are healthy.
SUMMARY:The optimal carb intake varies between individuals, depending on activity levels, current metabolic health and many other factors.
Decide Your Daily Carb Intake
If you simply remove the unhealthiest carb sources from your diet, refined wheat and added sugars, then you’ll be well on your way to improved health.
However, to enjoy the full metabolic benefits of low-carbohydrate diets, you also need to restrict other carb sources.
Even though there is no scientific paper that explains exactly how to match carbohydrate intake to individual needs, I have personally found these guidelines to be very effective.
100-150 Grams per Day
This is more of a “moderate” carbohydrate intake. It is very appropriate for people who are lean, active and are simply trying to stay healthy and maintain their weight.
It is very possible to lose weight at this (and any) carb intake, but it may require you to count calories and/or control portions.
Carbs you can eat:
• All the vegetables you can imagine.
• Several pieces of fruit per day.
• Moderate amounts of healthy starches like potatoes, sweet potatoes and healthier grains like rice and oats.
50-100 Grams per Day
This range is great if you want to lose weight effortlessly while allowing for a bit of carbs in the diet. It is also a great range to maintain your weight if you are sensitive to carbs.
Carbs you can eat:
• Plenty of vegetables.
• 2-3 pieces of fruit per day.
• Minimal amounts of starchy carbohydrates.
20-50 Grams per Day
This is where the metabolic benefits really start to kick in. This is the perfect range for people who need to lose weight fast, or are metabolically deranged and have obesity or diabetes.
When eating less than 50 grams per day, your body will get into ketosis, supplying energy for the brain via so-called ketone bodies. This is likely to kill your appetite and cause you to lose weight automatically.
Carbs you can eat:
• Plenty of low-carb vegetables.
• Some berries, maybe with whipped cream (yum).
• Trace carbs from other foods like avocados, nuts and seeds.
Be aware that a low-carb diet is NOT no-carb. There is room for plenty of low-carb vegetables (full list here). Personally I had never eaten as many veggies as when I first started on a low-carb diet.
Important to Experiment
We are all unique and what works for one person may not for the next. It is important to do some self-experimentation and figure out what works for you.
If you have a medical condition, then make sure to talk to your doctor before making any changes, because this diet can drastically reduce your need for medication!
SUMMARY:For people who are physically active or want to maintain their weight, a range of 100-150 grams of carbs per day may be optimal. For people who have metabolic problems and need to lose weight quickly, going under 50 grams per day is a good idea.
Good Carbs, Bad Carbs
A low-carb diet isn’t just about weight loss, it is also supposed to improve your health.
For this reason, it should be based on real, unprocessed foods and healthy carb sources.
So-called “low carb junk foods” are a bad choice.
If you want to improve your health, then choose unprocessed foods: meats, fish, eggs, vegetables, nuts, avocados, healthy fats and full-fat dairy products.
Choose carbohydrate sources that include fiber. If you prefer a “moderate” carb intake then try to choose unrefined starch sources like potatoes, sweet potatoes, oats and brown rice.
Added sugar and refined wheat are always bad options and should be limited or avoided.
For more details on specific foods to eat, check out this list of low carb foods and this detailed low-carb meal plan and sample menu.
SUMMARY:It is very important to choose healthy, fiber-rich carb sources. There is room for plenty of vegetables, even at the lowest level of carb intake.
You Will Burn Fat Much Easier
Low-carb diets greatly reduce your blood levels of insulin, a hormone that brings the glucose (from carbs) into cells.
One of the functions of insulin is to store fat. Many experts believe that the reason low-carb diets work so well, is that they reduce your levels of this hormone.
Another thing that insulin does is to tell the kidneys to store sodium. This is the reason high-carb diets can cause excess water retention.
When you cut carbs, you reduce insulin and your kidneys start shedding excess water (9, 10).
It is common for people to lose a lot of water weight in the first few days on a low-carb diet, up to 5-10 pounds.
Weight loss will slow down after the first week, but this time the fat will be coming from your fat stores.
One study compared low-carb and low-fat diets and used DEXA scanners (very accurate) to measure body composition.
The low-carb dieters lost significant amounts of body fat and gained muscle at the same time (11).
Studies also show that low-carb diets are particularly effective at reducing the fat in your abdominal cavity (belly fat), which is the most dangerous fat of all and strongly associated with many diseases (12).
If you’re new to low-carb eating, you will probably need to go through an adaptation phase where your body is getting used to burning fat instead of carbs.
This is called the “low-carb flu” and is usually over within a few days. After this initial phase is over, many people report having more energy than before, with no “afternoon dips” in energy that are common on high-carb diets.
SUMMARY:It is common to feel suboptimal in the first few days of lowering your carb intake. However, most people feel excellent after this initial adaptation phase.
The Bottom Line
If you want to try this out, then I recommend that you try tracking your food intake for a few days to get a “feel” for the amount of carbs you are eating.
My favorite app for this is called Cron-O-Meter. It’s free and easy to use.
Because fiber grams don’t really count as carbohydrates, you can exclude the fiber grams from the total number. Instead, count net carbs (net carbs = total carbs – fiber).
However, one of the great benefits of low-carb diets is that they’re ridiculously simple. You don’t need to track anything if you don’t want to.
Just eat some protein, healthy fats and veggies at every meal. Throw in some nuts, seeds, avocados and full-fat dairy products for good measure. Choose unprocessed foods. It doesn’t get much simpler than that!