Ever wonder how many carbs per day are safe for weight loss? I spend a lot of time reading and responding to comments on the site, and one thing I’ve learned is that there are still a lot of people out there who aren’t sure how many carbs you should be eating. The information about carbohydrates can be confusing, and not knowing if what you’re doing will help you lose weight can make it an even more difficult process.
First, what exactly are carbs, and what do they do?
Carbohydrates are nutrients, and they’re the most important source of energy for your body, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine. Your digestive system converts carbs into glucose (aka, sugar), which your body then uses for energy for your cells, tissues, and organs.
Carbs are also split into two different categories: simple and complex carbohydrates. Simple carbs include dairy, fruits, and vegetables; while complex carbs include whole grains, starchy vegetables, and legumes.
Your body tends to digest simple carbs more quickly, while complex carbs provide a longer-lasting source of energy. But you do need both types of carbs for a balanced diet, BTW.
So, how many carbs should I be eating each day to lose weight?
Dietary guidelines recommend you get between 45 to 65 percent of your daily calories from carbohydrates, Brissette says. But since everyone needs a different number of calories every day, there is no set number of carbs that equals a “low carb” diet for everyone. If you know how many calories you typically consume daily, you can do a little math to find your low-carb range: For example, if you’re eating 1,800 calories per day, that equates to 203 to 293 grams of carbs per day.
“Dropping carbs below the 45 to 65 percent range isn’t recommended for most people because it makes getting all of your vitamins and minerals each day far more challenging,” says Brissette.
With that in mind, you might have to make some modifications in order to find the sweet spot that works best for you and your weight-loss goals, says Liz Blom, RD, a Minnesota-based nutrition and wellness coach.
In general, you want to get 45 to 65 percent of your daily calories from carbohydrates.
She suggests getting about 45 percent of your daily calories from carbs if you’re trying to lose weight, and using a tool like MyFitnessPal to track your intake. If you don’t lose any weight after the first week, you can try going lower, says Blom. Conversely, if you start losing weight but begin to feel super sluggish, try upping your carbohydrate intake a bit and see how you feel and how your weight responds.
It’s also important to note that the amount of your daily calories that should come from carbs is often influenced by several different factors, like activity level, body composition, age, and existing medical conditions.
According to Danielle Schaub, RD, culinary and nutrition manager for Territory Foods, you might want to aim for the lower end of the carb range if you:
Have diabetes or other metabolic disorders requiring you to keep your blood sugar stable and maintain lower insulin levelsAre struggling to maintain a healthy weight, since eating more protein and fat can help you feel fuller and maintain muscle massAre older and feeling your metabolism slowing down with age
On the other hand, says Schaub, you might want to aim for the higher end of the carb range if you:
Are an athlete wanting to improve performanceAre an active person with high muscle mass and/or low body fatHave kidney disease, because a higher-carb diet can reduce the protein filtering load on the kidneysHave digestive issues, especially constipation, that would be improved with a diet full of fiber-rich foods like whole grains, beans, fruits and veggies
Still, you probably want to make sure your carbohydrate intake doesn’t surpass 65 percent of your daily calorie intake, says Blom, if you’re aiming to lose weight. “This will leave less room for protein and healthy fat intake, which will support satiety and other weight-loss benefits,” she notes.
The key to maintaining your carb control is to load up on wholesome varieties of carbohydrates, like whole grains, fruits, vegetables, legumes, and even dairy products, and keep your portions in check, says Blom. These healthy sources of carbs are also packed with fiber, so they’ll fill you up faster and curb your appetite better than, say, pasta and doughnuts.
What are some examples of simple carbs and complex carbs?
We already filled you in on the difference between simple and complex carbs: simple carbs are quickly and easily digested while complex ones take longer (but translate into longer-lasting energy).
Some examples of simple carbs include:
fresh fruit and dried fruitdairyfruit juices, jams, and jellieswhite breadwhite rice and pastacandy and sodamost breakfast cerealssweeteners like maple syrup and honey, among others
Again, simple carbs aren’t “bad,” so you don’t need to nix them altogether. But choosing complex carbs to make up your carb intake more often can help lead to weight loss.
Some examples of complex carbs include:
milletchickpeasrolled oatsbarleymultigrain hot cerealsweet potatoesspeltbutternut squashpotatoeskamutblack beanswhole-wheat breadsprouted-grain breadwhole-wheat pastaquinoabrown ricefarrolentilsgreen peas
How Many Carbs Per Day Should I Eat to Lose Weight?
There are a few factors that you should consider before jumping right in which will set you up for weight loss success and overall health improvements.
1: Even A Reduction of Carbs Will Result Help With Weight Loss
If you have been consuming a high intake of carbs for a long period of time then any reduction of carbs over time may eventually result in weight loss. This is due to the fact that you’ll likely have reduced your total daily calorie count as your hunger diminishes.
With that said, there’s no point in reducing your daily carb intake if the majority of your remaining carbs are processed. In other words, carbs that are found in bleached and processed flours, fast foods, and the like.
At Ditch The Carbs PRO, I always promote a whole-food approach, meaning that you shouldn’t just focus on reaching your macro counts without considering the quality (or lack thereof) of foods but that you should be striving to reach your macros with quality, whole foods that will provide the adequate nutritional value your body can use. This is where clean versus dirty keto comes in.
Quantity AND quality of your carbs are important to monitor.
What is dirty keto shows food to eat and food to avoid
2: The Level of Carb Restriction Impacts The Amount of Possible Weight Loss
Apart from eating unprocessed carbs, your weight loss success also depends on what level of carb restriction you adhere to.
But don’t think going lower will give you more rapid results. If the level of carb restriction is not sustainable for you and your lifestyle, you will continually have “cheat days” and feel a sense of failure.
Instead, choose a level that you can live with easily and sustainably whilst still achieving results.
To give you a better idea of what is considered moderate to low carb as well as keto, here is a breakdown of the amount of carbs to aim for depending on your weight loss goal:
<100g/day = moderate low-carb
<50g/day = low-carb
<20g/day = keto
3: Recommended Carb Intake Based On Several Physical Factors
woman looking at food and wondering calculating how many carbs per day should she eat
mockup of the keto diet food list on various devices and a buy now button
Since everyone is different it makes sense then that the number of carbs you should be eating per day for weight loss depends on factors such as age, sex, body type, and current activity level.
To get a great indication of how many carbs you should be eating per day, try out my macro calculator! Besides providing you with an accurate macro split for optimal weight loss.
It’ll also provide you with a guide to how much protein you should be having depending on your level of activity.
4: Pre-existing Health Conditions To Consider
A low-carb diet followed consistently over time has been recorded to reverse health conditions such as type 2 diabetes.
If you have any pre-existing medical conditions, always keep your healthcare provider updated on any dietary and lifestyle changes you intend to make with follow-up consultations especially since this diet can substantially reduce your medication requirements!
mockups of how to start low-carb and keto cheat sheets and templates
Is It Better To Count Calories Or carbs?
You may have come across two common approaches to weight loss – counting overall daily calories versus solely concentrating on counting carbs. But which is best for optimal and healthy weight loss?
The Difference Between Calorie and Carb Counting
Calorie counting places emphasis on total calories in versus total calories out, highlighting the importance of always being in a calorie deficit (in other words, you consume less than the energy you expend on a daily basis).
The challenge that most find with this approach to weight loss is twofold.
You either need to constantly be increasing your daily exercise to burn off residual energy supplies from food consumed- or -You need to reduce your food intake as you lose weight because your daily calorie intake must be adjusted to your new weight every few weeks
Both approaches just leave you hungry and tired. Calorie counting NEVER addresses the issue of hunger.
On the other hand, counting carbs places the emphasis on ensuring that you adhere to a particular amount of carbs per day which will differ depending on whether you are following a moderate to low carb diet or the keto diet with a limit of 20 grams of net carbs (total carbs less fibre), placing you in a fat-burning state known as ketosis.
Weight gain is a hormone imbalance, not a calorie imbalance.
Insulin is our fat-storing hormone. When you live on a chronic high-carb diet, your sugar and insulin levels are always in the fat-storing mode, not fat-burning mode.
Counting Calories vs Carbs: Which Weight Loss Method Is Better?
Each of these two methods of weight loss has merit. However, there is growing evidence for advocating the carb counting method over the calorie counting method and these are two main reasons why:
Firstly, the calorie counting method has the potential of ignoring an adequate split in the three macronutrients (fat, carbs, and protein) for the most efficient fat burning.
It is possible for a person to be in a calorie deficit while consuming higher amounts of carbs compared to a person following a low-carb or keto diet.
The person eating high carbs while being in a calorie deficit will likely experience cravings and hunger which could make this method unsustainable long-term.
Because carbs are broken down into sugar in our bodies, this stimulates an increase in insulin, and elevations in insulin can increase hunger.
Secondly, at some point in every weight loss journey, a person will likely experience a weight loss plateau.
While a low-carb or keto follower will simply adjust their carb content to push through the plateau, someone following the calorie deficit method has to further reduce their total calories resulting in a slower metabolism, which in turn makes it even harder to lose any further weight.
The latter scenario is what is referred to as a “calorie deficit paradox”.
What Do I Eat On A Low-Carb And Keto Diet?
mockup of the keto diet food list on various devices and a buy now button
While weight loss is one of the driving factors for a person to follow a low carb or keto diet, by now I’m sure you would have noticed that I advocate this lifestyle for improved overall health alongside weight loss.
Consequently, whole and unprocessed foods are a priority should you be adhering to a clean keto diet for maximum weight loss success and improved health.
Why would you want to eat fewer carbs?
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that carbs provide 45-65% of your daily calorie intake for all age groups and sexes
According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Daily Value (DV) for carbs is 300 grams per day when eating a 2,000-calorie diet
Some people reduce their daily carb intake with the aim of losing weight, cutting down to around 50-150 grams per day.
Research has shown that low carb diets can be part of an effective weight loss strategy.
This diet restricts your intake of carbohydrates – including sugars and starches like bread and pasta – and replaces them with protein, healthy fats, and vegetables.
Studies show that low carb diets can reduce a person’s appetite, lead to them eating fewer calories, and help them to lose weight more easily than in other diets, provided they maintain the diet
In studies comparing low carb and low fat diets, researchers need to actively restrict calories in the low fat groups to make the results comparable, but the low carb groups are still usually more effective
Low carb diets also have benefits that go beyond just weight loss. They can help to lower blood sugar, blood pressure, and triglycerides. They can also help to raise HDL (good) cholesterol and improve the pattern of LDL (bad) cholesterol
Low carb diets often cause more weight loss and improve health when compared to calorie-restricted, low fat diets that many people still recommend. There’s plenty of evidence to support this idea
Summary Many studies show that low carb diets can be more effective and healthier than low fat diets.
What counts as a low carb diet?
There’s no clear definition of exactly what constitutes a low carb diet, and what’s low for one person may not be low for the next.
An individual’s optimal carb intake depends on their 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 develop metabolic syndrome, obesity, or type 2 diabetes, their carb needs change.
People who fall into these categories are less able to tolerate a lot of of carbs.
Summary The optimal carb intake varies between individuals, depending on activity levels, current metabolic health, and many other factors.