Low carbohydrate diets are common for weight loss, but how many carbs can you eat and still lose weight? The Institute of Medicine suggests a minimum requirement of 130 grams of carbohydrates per day.
This amount per day is needed for the brain because the central nervous system (CNS) uses only carbohydrates for fuel. When carbohydrate intake is under 130 grams per day, carbohydrate is “made” from proteins and fat in the body to send to the CNS for fuel.
Some low carbohydrate diets, like the South Beach or Atkins diet, go under the 130 grams per day requirement. Usually it is just for a certain time, and carbohydrate levels usually go back up to around 130 grams per day.
See also: Can you lose weight faster with carb cycling?
Some people may have side effects fewer than 130 grams of carbohydrate intake like headache, low energy and feeling tired.
Do you have to go under 130 grams of carbs per day for weight loss? No. Some low carbohydrate diets are still above 130 grams per day, as there is no clear definition of low carbohydrate diet. Remember, low carbohydrate does not always equal healthy.
How much carbohydrate do you get in a day?
Another way to measure carbohydrate intake is by percentage of calories. The Institute of Medicine suggests Americans get 45-65% of calories coming from carbohydrate.
American adults on average consume around 52% of calories from carbohydrate. This translates to about 260 grams of carbohydrates per day for someone eating 2,000 calorie diet: double the minimum carbohydrate requirement.
At this average level, you could technically cut out up to half the carbohydrates and still be at the minimum requirement. However, instead of focusing on a specific gram number of carbohydrates for weight loss, quality may be more than or just as important as quantity.
Quality vs. Quantity
Carbohydrates are not created the same. Some carbohydrate sources, like fruits, vegetables, legumes and whole grains, are full of fiber, antioxidants and phytochemicals that are beneficial for health.
Carbohydrates like candy, sweetened drinks, baked goods, etc. do not offer much nutritional benefit besides empty calories.
Cutting out the carbohydrates like sweetened beverages, baked goods and refined carbohydrates may help weight loss efforts more than cutting out fruits, vegetables, legumes and whole grains.
These more complex carbohydrates have fiber which can also help with weight loss.
The Institute of Medicine suggests females 31-50 years old get 25 grams of fiber per day. Cutting out carbohydrate sources like fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes may make it almost impossible to meet this guideline.
Instead of focusing on cutting all carbohydrates, cutting extra sugar may have significant health benefits as well as helping weight loss. Cutting back on sugar can help stabilize blood insulin and glucose levels, lower triglycerides and cut out empty calories.
High sugar foods can drastically increase blood sugar and insulin levels which promotes fat storage.
Track your food intake for a few days. Do you drink sweetened beverages? Do you eat occasional sweets? Looking at your food and drink intake instead of trying to remember it can help pinpoint areas to target.
Watch out for other names for sugar on food labels such as:
- Fructose or high fructose corn syrup
Long term Results
Yes cutting out carbohydrates can help you lose weight fast; some would argue because it is reducing calorie intake. However, what about long term weight loss? Is low carbohydrate the way to go?
Short term weight loss studies show weight loss for low carbohydrate diets and diets higher in carbohydrates, but what about long term weight loss?
A 2009 study from The New England Journal of Medicine looked at 4 different diets- all with varying carbohydrate, protein and fat levels and tracked the weight loss results of over 800 participants in these four groups.
Researchers looked at weight loss after 6 months, 1 year and 2 years. Their results showed that weight loss was not significantly different between groups after 2 years. In other words, people were able to lose weight on all types of diets, including low carbohydrate.
What should you do?
In general, getting at least 130 grams of carbohydrates per day up to 45-65% of your daily calories from carbohydrates is the current guideline for safe, long term carbohydrate intake. Instead of focusing on a specific gram number to stay under, focus on cutting extra sugar out of your diet.
Keep foods in your diet like vegetables, fruits, legumes and whole grains.
To further keep your blood sugar regulated, eat high fiber carbohydrate foods at meal times with a source of protein and healthy fats. Eating mixed meals can help slow the absorption of natural carbohydrates.
Some health conditions, like diabetes or extreme obesity, may warrant a lower than recommended carbohydrate level. Talk to a medical professional for any questions you have about your health and diet.