How Many Carbs Should You Eat For Weight Loss?

When trying to lose weight, the most popular approach is to cut carbs. But it can be confusing to know how many carbs you should eat if you’re trying to lose weight. Learn how to count carbs to achieve your health and weight loss goals.

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What is a low-carb diet?

By definition, a low-carb diet is designed to limit the number of carbohydrates you eat in a day, regardless of their source, opting instead for increased protein and/or healthy fats. There are a number of low-carb diets, including:

These diet plans vary depending on the number of carbs you are “allowed" to eat each day. Their overall goal is to reduce your intake of foods containing carbohydrates which are easy energy sources for your body. Instead of using carbs for energy, the purpose of a low-carb diet is for your body to use stored fat as fuel, helping you to lose weight.

Why cut carbs?

Some carbs are healthier than others. Chances are good, you have plenty of the less-healthy kind in your life. You may have even thought that you were eating the "right" foods while doing so. Even when you eat “good carbs”, the amount you consume still counts.

The purpose of cutting carbs is to remove excess sugar from your diet. Carbs to avoid come from processed junk food, as well as limiting foods that are naturally high in sugar.

While fruits are good for us, and they contain many important nutrients, portion size still applies, so you shouldn’t eat an entire watermelon for lunch, for instance. Fruits contain natural sugars that your body will store for use later when it needs energy.  When eating fruit, stick to recommended serving sizes and pair it with protein which promotes fullness and slows the digestion of carbohydrates. Fruits also contain fiber which slows sugar absorption.

A low-carb diet aims to force your body to burn your fat stores for energy rather than excess sugars. When you make the switch to a higher-protein diet, you may initially feel hungry because your body will crave the missing sugars. You will also lose water weight first before you start to lose fat.

Should you cut carbs to lose weight?

The NHS UK¹ states that while consuming too much sugar (carbohydrates) is unhealthy, you should not eliminate all carbs from your diet. The truth is, carbs are an essential nutrient, and they exist in so many of the foods you eat. By trying to cut all carbs, you are risking energy deficiency and a variety of other health concerns.

When you remove² carbs from your diet, you may also be removing many valuable nutrients that your body needs, such as:

  • Fiber – Generally found in starchy foods including beans, legumes, whole grains, vegetables, and fruit.

  • Calcium – Generally found in dairy products, as well as certain vegetables, soy, and bony fish, but when you follow a low-carb diet, it can be harder to meet your daily calcium requirements.

  • Iron – This essential nutrient helps to keep your immune system and other bodily processes in check.

  • B vitamins – These help to turn food into energy, create blood cells, and improve the health of your skin, brain cells, and more.

There is also concern among the medical community that overly restricting carbohydrates and replacing them with too many fats, even healthy fats, and protein could increase your risk of developing health conditions, such as high cholesterol, low glucose, and excess ketones in the blood. These can cause you to feel sick, have headaches, and feel dizzy, and lead to serious health consequences.

If you are interested in trying a low-carb diet, it is important to do so safely³ and find the one that works for you. This means limit, not eliminate, carbs. You should also consult your doctor before starting to determine whether low-carb is right for you. 

Best foods for low-carb diets

It is impossible to remove all carbs from your diet. Both healthy and unhealthy foods will have some form of sugar in them. What matters most is that you choose the healthier sugars over the less healthy varieties, and consider limiting those carbs at each meal. With most low-carb diets, you are encouraged to eat several small meals each day rather than one large meal.

Some of the healthiest foods⁴ you can eat are high in carbohydrates. The key is understanding which carbs to include and which to avoid.

Carbohydrates to include

The healthiest carbohydrates are those that are unprocessed or minimally processed, such as:

  • Whole grains, including brown rice and oats

  • Sweet potatoes

  • Legumes and beans

  • Beets

  • Fruits (preferably fresh; eat dried fruit in moderation)

Carbohydrates to avoid

Less healthy carbs that contain little nutritional value are those that have no fiber and are highly processed. They may taste great but they aren’t great for your health. These include:

  • White pasta and rice

  • Breakfast cereals

  • Baked goods, such as muffins, cookies, cakes, and white bread

  • Potato chip

  • Flavored yogurt or milk

  • Sugary beverages, such as soda and fruit drinks with added sugar

  • Candy and chocolate

When you are trying to avoid excess sugar, check the ingredients list as sugar goes by many different names. Some of the most common are:

  • Cane syrup

  • Corn syrup

  • Dextrose

  • Fructose

  • Sucrose

  • Sugar

Before starting a low-carb diet, you should take stock of your pantry to see which foods you normally eat. Look at the ingredients list and see the listed percentage of carbohydrates that they contain. Most diets for people with diabetes⁵ who are looking to lose fat and reduce sugar intake by cutting carbs will recommend limiting the number of foods with higher carb percentages.

How many carbs should I eat to lose weight?

How many carbs you should eat if you are trying to lose weight varies from person to person, depending on factors including:

  • Your age

  • Your current weight

  • How much you exercise

  • Your health, including any conditions such as diabetes

If you are tired of battling your weight and want to understand how many carbs you should be eating to promote weight loss, you should talk to a dietitian about the right approach based on your overall situation.

If you are eating around 1,800 calories per day, you should generally aim for 800-900 of those calories to come from carbs if you are diabetic⁶. For healthy individuals, aim for 800-1080 calories from carbohydrates on an 1800-calorie diet. If your calorie intake is lower, adjust your carbs accordingly. A higher-calorie intake each day means that you will lose weight slower.

For some people, the easiest way to plan a meal is via the MyPlate⁷ option which helps you to plan out your plate with the right proportions of each nutrient:

  • Half  – Fruit and vegetables

  • Quarter – Whole grains or complex carbohydrates

  • Quarter – Protein

If you want to simply cut your calories and carbs to lose weight, remember that low-carb tends to be a short-term diet only for most people, as your health can suffer if you eat too few carbohydrates in the long term. Make sure to see a dietitian plan and personalize your goals to support your health effectively.

The lowdown

A low-carb diet can help you to shed pounds if you do it safely and effectively, especially if paired with a regular exercise routine⁸ to burn fat faster. Even exercising for 20minutes a day three days a week can help you to see results. Before you start a low-carb diet, make sure to discuss with your doctor and a dietitian if it is right for you, and which low-carb diet you should choose as they vary in their carbohydrate amounts. Remember that eating low-carb is a temporary solution to help you lose weight, and if you notice any negative symptoms, you should contact a health professional.

  1. The truth about carbs | NHS

  2. Weight loss | Mayo Clinic

  3. What happens when you stop eating carbs | Nourish by WebMD

  4. Carbohydrates | Harvard T.H. Chan

  5. Carbohydrates & blood sugar control for people with diabetes | Cleveland Clinic

  6. Carb counting | CDC

  7. What is MyPlate? | USDA My Plate

  8. Working out on a low carb Diet | Atkins

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