What percentage of carbs should i eat to lose weight? Weight loss can sometimes be a matter of finding the right mix of foods. By concentrating on a healthy balance of carbohydrates, proteins and fats, you can help make weight loss both possible and pleasurable. However, it is important to remember that extreme measures are rarely effective. By concentrating on the right balance of nutrients, you will find optimal health more easily than by trying to eliminate certain food groups or sticking to rigid and excessive diet plans.
What Are Carbs?
First, meet the macronutrients: carbs, fats, and protein. The primary purpose of carbs is to give you energy. (FYI, fat is used for energy, too. But it also protects organs, keeps you warm, and supports hormone production and cell growth. Protein provides structure for your cells and tissues and is used for the function and regulation of numerous body processes.) Most of the carbohydrates you eat are broken down by the digestive system into glucose, which is then used as energy to fuel your cells, tissues, and organs. Carbs can also be stored, so to speak, as fat cells for later use. (That’s why some people practice carb backloading.)
Tons of foods contain carbs. There are more obvious ones such as bread, oats, and rice, or sweets such as cake, cookies, pastries, candy, and chips. But beans and lentils, fruit and fruit juice, milk and dairy products, and even vegetables such as potatoes, peas, and corn have carbs. (All vegetables contain some carbs, but starchy veggies have about 15 grams per serving vs. 5 grams or less for non-starchy veggies.)
Carbs are made up of fiber, starch, and sugar. There are 4 calories per gram of carbohydrate. You’ll often hear about “simple” carbs and “complex” carbs.
Simple carbs are the sugar — both the naturally occurring sugar present in foods and sugar that is added to foods. Some common examples of simple carbs are sugar-sweetened beverages, candy, white flour products, and fruit juice. Many studies have linked a high intake of simple carbs to health issues such as obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. When it comes to reaching the recommended carbs per day, simple carbs aren’t exactly the ones you want to be filling up on (and oftentimes, they’re what experts suggest cutting back on).
Complex carbs are generally higher in fiber and are digested more slowly. Some common examples include whole grains, beans and legumes, vegetables, and whole fruit.
When you eat carbs, your blood glucose (blood sugar) rises. Consuming foods that contain protein and/or fat at the same time slows the rate at which that breakdown occurs, which helps maintain a more steady blood sugar level rather than causing a sharp spike and then crash. Fiber also helps slow that digestive process. That’s why whole foods — which naturally contain a balance of protein, fat, and fiber — are ideal.
How many carbs do you need?
Depending on your age, sex, activity level, and overall health, your carbohydrate requirements will vary. According to the Mayo Clinic, 45 to 65 percent of your daily calories should come from carbohydrates. That’s equal to about 225 to 325 grams of carbs if you eat 2,000 calories a day.
It’s not always practical to count your carbs, so the American Diabetes Association offers a simple strategy to structure your plate at every meal to help you get the right amount of carbs:
- Draw an imaginary vertical line down the middle of your plate. Then draw a horizontal line across one half, so your plate is divided into three sections.
- Fill the big section with non-starchy vegetables, such as spinach, carrots, lettuce, green cabbage, or mushrooms.
- Fill one of the small sections with starchy vegetables, such as potatoes or winter squash, or grains, such as whole grain pasta or brown rice. Legumes, such as black peas or pinto beans, are also great options.
- Fill the other small section with protein. For example, you might choose low-fat options, such as skinless chicken or turkey, salmon or catfish, or lean cuts of beef.
- Add a small serving of fruit or low-fat dairy on the side.
- Choose foods that contain healthy fats such as olive oil, avocados, seeds, and nuts.
- Enjoy a low-calorie drink, such as water, unsweetened tea, or coffee.
What foods contain starch?
Starch can be found in starchy vegetables and grain products, such as:
- winter squash
- green peas
- dried beans
- bread and bread products
When you’re filling a small portion of your plate with grains or starchy vegetables, choose high-fiber, unprocessed options with little to no added sugar and fat. Starchy vegetables and whole grains are rich sources of minerals, vitamins, and fiber.
What foods contain fiber?
Fiber has many health benefits. According to the Mayo Clinic, a high-fiber diet can help prevent constipation, lower cholesterol, regulate blood sugar, and reduce your risk of heart disease and diabetes. If you’re 50 years old or younger, you should eat about 38 grams of fiber per day if you’re a man and 25 grams if you’re a woman. If you’re over the age of 50, you should eat about 30 grams per day if you’re a man and 21 grams if you’re a woman.
Dietary fiber can be found in:
- whole grains
- nuts, seeds, and legumes
Look for breads, crackers, pastas, and other products that list whole grains as their first ingredient. Check the nutrition label; foods that have 3-5 grams of fiber or more are good high-fiber options. You can also serve steamed or boiled whole grains, such as brown rice, wild rice, buckwheat, millet, quinoa, and oats.
What foods contain sugar?
It’s good to get your carbohydrate intake from complex carbohydrates, such as starch and fiber, as well as from natural sugars like fresh fruits and some vegetables.
You should avoid refined and added sugars as much as possible. These foods provide “empty” calories, which means they’re high in calories but low in nutrients. Foods with added sugars tend to have fewer nutrients than foods with naturally occurring sugars.
Not sure what to avoid? Watch out for these sugar-laden sweeteners on nutrition labels:
- brown sugar
- corn sweetener
- corn syrup
- fruit juice concentrate
- high-fructose corn syrup
- invert sugar
- malt syrup
- raw sugar
Limit foods that contain these added sweeteners to the occasional treat. Remember that ingredients on food labels are listed by quantity, from most to least. Foods where these sweeteners appear higher in the ingredient list, or which contain multiple types of sugar, will have a higher content of added sugar.
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.
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
Percentage of Calories from Carbohydrates (Carbs)
Your body uses carbs as its preferred source of energy. You get the majority of your carbs from plant-type foods and milk products. When you eat carbs, you want to go for what’s called “complex” carbs and natural sugars – and you want to avoid “refined carbs.”
You get complex carbs from whole grains such as rice, oats and barley, whole grain breads and cereals, and starchy vegetables like potatoes, sweet potatoes, corn and squash.
You get natural sugars from foods such as fruits, non-starchy vegetables, and milk and milk products.
Refined or processed carbs are products that have been processed by machines, so that they’re not “whole” grains anymore. They’ve been stripped of certain parts.
They usually don’t have any nutritional value either – meaning they don’t have any vitamins or minerals. They’re what’s called “empty” calories.
Refined carbs are things like sugar, syrups, anything made with white flour, such as white bread, white pasta, cakes, pastries, muffins, bagels and – well, you get the idea. If it was made by machines, chances are it’s been processed.
A healthy person should aim to get 45% to 65% of their calories from carbs, with active individuals aiming for 55% to 65% of their calories coming from carbs.
Percentage of Calories from Protein
Your body uses protein to help build muscle and other tissue. It also helps in the transportation of vitamins, minerals, fat and oxygen throughout the body.
You get protein from sources such as beef, poultry, fish — basically, any type of meat — and from other sources such as eggs, nuts and seeds, and tofu.
A healthy individual should aim to get about 10% to 35% of their calories from protein.
Percentage of Calories from Fat
Fat is used as an energy source for the body but it also has other important functions, such as helping you absorb certain vitamins and produce certain hormones.
Some fats are healthier than others. Sources of good fat include olive oil and other healthy oils, nuts and seeds, fatty fish such as salmon and foods like avocados, olives and peanut butter.
A healthy individual should aim to get 20% to 35% of their calories from fat.
Total Carbohydrates Per Day
Carbohydrates generally make up the bulk of the average person’s diet. According to the Mayo Clinic, between 45 and 65 percent of your total daily calories should be carbohydrates.
For example, if you’re on an 1,800-calorie-per-day diet, you would need to consume between 810 and 1,170 calories from carbohydrates in an average day. Since one gram of carbs equals four calories, that means between 202 and 293 grams per day.
Learn how to fill your plate with healthy, nutrient-dense foods by logging your meals on the MyPlate app. Download now to fine-tune your diet today!
Carbohydrates Per Meal
Once you’ve determined how many grams of carbohydrates you need per day, you can break them up into values for each of your meals and snacks. For breakfast, many people reach for cereal, oatmeal or toast, meaning their first meal of the day is rich in carbohydrates.
Conversely, lunch and dinner generally feature protein as the main portion, so you’ll likely consume fewer carbs at those meals. Snacks, again, are usually carbohydrate-based, so don’t forget to balance your eating plan to include one or two high-carb snacks in a day.
Back to the example of an 1,800-calorie diet, if you have 810 to 1,170 grams of carbohydrates allotted for the day, you might allow for 75 grams of carbohydrates during breakfast, 50 to 60 grams for lunch and dinner, and the rest for snacking.
Certain people, like those who have diabetes, need to limit the amount of carbohydrates they eat at each meal. Eating too many carbohydrates at one time can increase blood sugar levels.
According to the American Diabetes Association, most diabetics should eat 45 to 60 grams of carbohydrates at each meal. However, your needs may be different. If you have diabetes, talk t your doctor about how many carbohydrates you should eat.
Not all carbs are created equal; some have more nutrients (like vitamins, minerals and fiber) than others. When choosing carbohydrates, try to pick unprocessed or whole sources — fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grain rice, barley, oats and wheat. Limit or avoid processed and refined sugars, such as white bread, soda and desserts.
HOW MANY CARBS SHOULD I EAT A DAY TO LOSE WEIGHT?
Decreasing carbs can play an important role in weight loss strategies. By reducing carbohydrate intake, people are likely decreasing the total amount of calories they are consuming overall. Additionally, carbs make us feel less “full” after consumption. Protein leaves greater feelings of satiety after a meal and contains fewer calories per gram than carbohydrates.
The specific amount of carbs to eat per day to lose weight should be based on a healthy weight loss strategy. It also depends on your activity level. For example, if you already consume 300g of carbs per day but increase your amount of exercise by an hour each day, you have essentially cut the relative number of carbs (and therefore calories) you consume. This is because you are burning more energy but consuming the same number of carbs/calories as before.
Another way to think about the number of carbs needed to lose weight per day is simply cutting out simple sugars during non-athletic activity. This has the knock-on health effect of potentially lowering your blood sugar and promoting healthy cholesterol.
So, should you cut carbs to lose weight? Or should you focus on exercise and a healthy diet? The answer is that simply exercising more and focusing on a healthy diet will likely yield better, more sustainable results faster.
HOW DO YOU CALCULATE CARBS?
Check the nutrition facts on food labels. Find the carbohydrate section. You will usually see three numbers given.
- Total carbohydrates mean the total amount of carbohydrates in one serving.
- Dietary fiber means how many of those carbohydrates your body cannot process since they are insoluble fibers. Learn about the importance of fiber for athletes. You can subtract these from the total carb calculation if you are counting carbs.
- The sugars field indicates how many of the total carbs in a serving come from sugar. Learn about sugar-free diets.
Log all of the carbs you consume in a day to get your total daily carbohydrate intake. Subtract out the number of carbs that come from dietary fiber to calculate your net carbohydrate intake.
HOW MANY CARBS A DAY IS LOW CARB?
There is no official definition of what constitutes a “low carb” diet. 50g of carbs per day is about where “low carb” starts. However, this is highly dependent on your personal activity level. A cyclist can burn more than 100g of carbs per hour, for example. Not fueling for that effort will lead the cyclist to slow down so the body can break down fat for fuel.
It should also be noted that the human brain is a muscle that processes carbs to function. Eating too few carbs can lead to feeling “foggy” in the brain, or like you can’t think very fast. This is because your brain has not adapted to lower carb intake.
You may be thinking, isn’t it good to train the body to prioritize fat burning over carbs? After all, the human body has a limitless supply of fat and a very low capacity for carbohydrate storage. This is a complicated question and is highly variable from person to person; however, most people will not benefit from a low-carb diet that prioritizes fat consumption.
Determining Your Intake
Eliminating an entire macronutrient such as carbohydrates can lead to nutritional deficiencies. Carbohydrates are rich in B vitamins, iron, and fiber, to name a few. It can also result in excess intake of other less healthy nutrients such as saturated fat found in fatty meats.
You may also be getting too few carbs relative to your activity levels, leaving you depleted of energy and not able to keep up with your fitness goals.5 Follow these simple steps to track your intake:
Read Food Labels
You can find the carbohydrate grams on the Nutrition Facts labels on packaged foods. You’ll find calorie information there, but be sure to double-check the serving size and number of servings per package.
Calculate the Number of Grams of Carbs
Use “FoodData Central,” the USDA’s National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, to calculate carbohydrate amounts for fresh foods. It’s a large database that’s regularly updated.
Keep a Food Diary
Keep a food diary to track your information. You can use a journal or a free online food tracker and calorie counter. Also consider keeping track of your mood, sleep patterns, and activity levels. Down the road, you may be able to make some associations between food choices and their effect on your daily mood and activity levels.