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How Many Carbs Should You Eat Per Day to Lose Weight?

Redu­cing the amount of car­bo­hydrates in your diet is one of the best ways to lose weight.

It tends to reduce your appet­ite and cause “auto­mat­ic” weight loss, without the need for cal­or­ie count­ing or por­tion con­trol.

This means that you can eat until full­ness, feel sat­is­fied and still lose weight.

Why Would You Want to do Low-Carb?

For the past few dec­ades, the health author­it­ies have recom­men­ded that we eat a cal­or­ie restric­ted, low-fat diet.

The prob­lem is that this diet doesn’t really work. Even when people man­age to stick to it, they don’t see very good res­ults (1, 2, 3).

An altern­at­ive that has been avail­able for a long time is the low-carb diet. This diet restricts your intake of car­bo­hydrates like sug­ars and starches (breads, pasta, etc.) and replaces them with pro­tein and fat.

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 (4).

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 (5, 6).

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 (7, 8, 9, 10).

Low-carb diets cause more weight loss and improve health much more than the cal­or­ie restric­ted, low-fat diet still recom­men­ded by the main­stream. This is pretty much a sci­entif­ic fact at this point (11, 12, 13).

Bot­tom Line: There are many stud­ies show­ing that low-carb diets are more effect­ive and health­i­er than the low-fat diet that is still recom­men­ded all around the world.

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.

Woman Holding Salad

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 for those who do a lot of high intens­ity, anaer­obic work 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. Some sci­ent­ists even refer to these prob­lems as “car­bo­hydrate intol­er­ance.”

Bot­tom Line: The optim­al carb range var­ies between indi­vidu­als, depend­ing on activ­ity levels, cur­rent meta­bol­ic health and a bunch of oth­er factors.

Guidelines That Work 90% of The Time

Girl Eating Sandwich

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 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.
  • Some amount (not a lot) 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 main­ten­ance range for people who are carb sens­it­ive.

Carbs you can eat:

  • Plenty of veget­ables.
  • Maybe 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!

Bot­tom Line: For people who are phys­ic­ally act­ive or want to main­tain their weight, a range of 100–150 grams per day may be optim­al. For people who have meta­bol­ic prob­lems, going under 50 grams per day is a good idea.

Good Carbs, Bad Carbs

Shocked Woman Eating Bread

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, 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, rice and oth­er non-glu­ten grains.

Added sug­ar and refined wheat are always bad options and should be lim­ited.

For more details on spe­cif­ic foods to eat, check out this detailed low-carb meal plan and sample menu.

Bot­tom Line: It is very import­ant to choose healthy, fiber-rich carb sources. There is room for plenty of veget­ables, even at the low­est end of the carb range.

You Will Become a Fat Burn­ing Beast

Woman Celebrating Successful Weight Loss

Low-carb diets greatly reduce your blood levels of insulin, a hor­mone that brings the gluc­ose (from the 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 hoard 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 (14, 15).

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 (16).

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 highly asso­ci­ated with many dis­eases (17).

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.

Adding more fat and sodi­um to your diet can help with this.

Bot­tom Line: 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.

Take Home Mes­sage

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 and full-fat dairy products for good meas­ure. Choose unpro­cessed foods. It doesn’t get much sim­pler than that!

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