You have some flexibility when planning your daily grams of carbs to lose weight. While there’s general agreement about the maximum number of carb grams you can consume for a low-carb diet, the experts haven’t established a precise number for weight loss, but there are some basic guidelines. No matter where you set your daily carb intake, as long as you also cut calories and stick with regular exercise, you’ll be on the path to weight loss.
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Daily Grams for a Low-Carb Diet
The Institute of Medicine determines the amount of carbs and other nutrients you need each day to stay active and healthy, but it hasn’t yet developed recommendations for a low-carb diet. Even though a standardized definition doesn’t exist, most experts say a lower-carb diet consists of 130 grams or fewer daily. For comparison, a regular meal plan should include 225 to 325 grams of carbs daily, based on a 2,000-calorie diet, according to Institute of Medicine guidelines.
Researchers studying low-carb diets design menus containing 20 to 100 grams of carbs per day for weight loss, reports Today’s Dietitian. While such low-carb diets facilitate weight loss and keep blood sugar under control, remember that the best way to lose weight -- and keep it off for the long term -- is to create a diet you can stick with and to drop weight at the rate of 1 to 2 pounds weekly. In other words, as you choose the number of carbs in your diet, you can go all the way down to 20 grams daily, but it makes sense to include enough carbs so that you won’t feel deprived or be tempted to go off the diet. Experiment with the number of grams of carbs you eat. Everyone is different, and some can lose weight at the higher-carb range before dropping down to fewer carbs.
Number of Grams on Low-Carb Diets
Getting fewer than 20 grams of carbs daily, known as a very-low-carb diet, causes the body to burn even more fat for energy. As fat breaks down, ketone bodies are produced, which have an important role because they’re the only form of energy your brain uses other than glucose. Ketones can build up and cause side effects such as headache, nausea and bad breath, however. This type of diet may be safe for weight loss, but it requires a well-planned menu designed by a professional that fills your nutritional requirements. Anyone following a very-low-carb diet should be monitored closely by a registered dietitian or doctor. A "ketogenic" diet with fewer than 20 grams of carbs per day is usually used as a therapeutic diet to control seizures in patients with certain medical conditions.
The Atkins Diet serves as an example of a low-carb diet and the different numbers of grams of daily carbs. The original Atkins 20 Plan outlines a diet for people with 40 or more pounds to lose, women with a waist over 35 inches, men with a waist larger than 40, and those who are diabetic or prediabetic. The first phase of Atkins 20 calls for consuming 20 to 25 grams of net carbs daily. During Phase 2 and Phase 3, daily carbs gradually increase to between 25 and 50 grams, then 50 to 80 grams, respectively. In the maintenance phase -- Phase 4 -- you consume 80 to 100 grams of carbs daily. The less restrictive Atkins 40 plan -- for people with 40 pounds or less to lose -- starts with 40 grams of net carbs daily, with net carbs being the total carb content of food minus fiber content and sugar alcohols.
Consider Daily Calorie Goals to Lose Weight
If you're eating toward the upper end of the range, around 100 grams of carbs a day, and you're not losing weight after some time on the diet plan, dropping your carb grams a little lower may help jumpstart your weight loss.
Alternatively, you may choose to forgo counting carbs and set a daily calorie goal instead to make sure you're not eating either too many or too few. If you enter your gender, height, weight, age and activity level into the online form provided by the Baylor College of Medicine, it automatically calculates the number of calories you need daily to maintain your current weight. Then you’ll need to cut 500 calories each day from maintenance calories to lose 1 pound a week.
Consider it a red flag if your daily calorie goal ends up at 1,200 calories or fewer, if you're a woman, or fewer than 1,800 if you're a man. This is the minimum calories needed to fuel basic metabolic needs, such as your brain, heart and organs, reports the American College of Sports Medicine. Also, don't forget that when when caloric intake drops below 1,200 calories, metabolism slows down, you burn fewer calories and it’s harder to lose weight. To prevent going too low on calories, you can cut only 250 calories a day, then settle for a slower, but sustainable, weight loss of 1/2 pound per week.
Best Low-Carb Foods for Weight Loss
When you're counting carbs, fill your plate with nonstarchy vegetables. They’re packed with nutrients, and you’ll only get 5 grams of carbs from 1/2 cup of cooked or 1 cup of raw veggies. This group includes most of your favorite vegetables, from beets, broccoli and carrots to leafy greens, tomatoes, mushrooms and peppers. By comparison, a serving of starchy veggies -- potatoes, peas, beans, winter squash or corn -- has 15 grams of carbs. Whole grains, beans and fruits are nutrient-rich foods, but they have the same carbs per serving as starchy veggies.
Milk and milk products contain natural sugars, with a cup of milk delivering 12 grams of carbs. Other animal-based foods -- eggs, fish, poultry and meat -- are free of carbs.
When you start a low-carb diet, begin by eliminating refined grains and sugary foods -- then keep them off the menu. This type of carbohydrate causes cravings that will sabotage your weight-loss efforts. Plus, healthy carbs are important sources of fiber and nutrients that you won't get from processed foods .
- Nutrition and Metabolism: Dietary Carbohydrate Restriction in Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus and Metabolic Syndrome: Time for a Critical Appraisal
- Institute of Medicine: Dietary Reference Intakes: Macronutrients
- Today’s Dietitian: Low-Carb Diets – Research Shows They May Be More Beneficial Than Other Dietary Patterns
- Atkins: Atkins 20 Diet Plan: How It Works
- Baylor College of Medicine: Adult Energy Needs and BMI Calculator
- American College of Sports Medicine: Metabolism Is Modifiable With the Right Lifestyle Changes
- UCLA Health: Very Low Calorie Diet (VLCD)
- University of Arkansas: The Exchange List System for Diabetic Meal Planning
- Authority Nutrition: How Many Carbs Should You Eat per Day to Lose Weight?