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Do Calories Matter on a Keto Diet?

Before it became a “mainstream” diet and lifestyle, the ketogenic diet was (and still is) used to treat epilepsy in children. Now, it’s used for weight loss and a slew of other health-related conditions.

The ketogenic diet induces a state of ketosis, meaning blood levels of ketones are elevated. This occurs due to carbohydrate restriction, which causes the body to burn fat and from this, produce ketone bodies. Now, you can find keto products on shelves everywhere, ranging from keto cookies to keto protein powders, which can be consumed guilt-free on a ketogenic diet. Or can they?

Many advocates of keto claim that you don’t have to count calories on the diet. This is a bit of a simplistic conclusion. Just like refined and junk food can be over consumed, so too can so-called “healthy” keto-friendly foods and other keto-friendly products—the ketogenic diet probably just makes you less likely to overeat them. So, do calories matter on keto? Let’s take a look.

What are Calories?

While the term “calories” is associated with food, they’re actually a measurement of heat.

In technical terms, one calorie (kCal) is the amount of energy needed to heat one kilogram of water by one degree Celsius. Measuring energy in calories is a way that food scientists have developed to quantify the amount of energy present in foods.

Foods contain varying amounts of energy stored in their atomic bonds. When the bonds are broken down, this energy is released (as heat).

Each macronutrient—carbohydrates, protein, and fat—have different calorie contents due to the energy they contain.

For instance, one gram of protein and carbohydrate each contain four calories, while one gram of fat contains nine calories; this is called their physiological fuel value.

Are All Calories Created Equal?

Traditional weight loss models basically all follow the same “simple” premise—that weight is governed by the specific equation of calories in minus calories out. It’s the first law of thermodynamics: total energy in a system is constant, it can’t be created or destroyed, but only change “forms.”

Using this concept, the only thing you need to do to lose weight is consume less energy (reduce the “calories in” side of the equation) than you’re using (increase or maintain the “calories out”).

The “calories in calories out” model, also known as CICO for short, has many times failed to produce successful weight loss outcomes. This may be due to a couple of reasons.

The first may have to do with “calories in”; people are pretty bad at quantifying how much they eat, and even those who are meticulous about tracking calories will experience large errors inherent to all calorie counting methods. Simply put—we can’t for sure tell how many “calories” someone gets from a food.

The other flaw with CICO is that, as you reduce calories, resting energy expenditure drops. When you eat less, your metabolism begins to slow down. This is a compensatory mechanism, which tries to defend body weight (meaning, keep weight on to protect from starvation) by adapting metabolism.1

In the long term, this is why weight loss maintenance is difficult for some people.

This drop in metabolic rate will either halt weight loss (known as a “plateau”) or eventually lead to weight regain, unless calories are restricted further. A vicious cycle precipitates.

For instance, one study placed obese participants on several different diets and observed that resting metabolic rate (RMR) decreased after three months of a calorie restricted (CR) diet (25% energy restriction). Participants on a low-calorie diet (890kcal/day) and those on a calorie restricted + exercise regimen also had slower metabolisms at week six.2 Interestingly, however, resting metabolic rate may be preserved during weight loss if fat free mass is also preserved as seen in one study.3

However, the participants in this study had, on average, only a 250 – 380kcal decrease in daily calories instead of the more drastic isocaloric diets people tend to experiment with, which may also explain the lack of a decrease in RMR. They also ate significantly more fiber and had greater insulin sensitivity, which may also explain the lack of a change in RMR.

RMR may also be maintained during weight loss on a higher protein / lower carbohydrate diet. When compared to other diets (high-carbohydrate), low-fat and high-protein intake seems to have the least effect on reducing RMR during reduced calorie intake.4

The CICO model also disregards one crucial factor—it treats all calories equal, and this is not the case.

A calorie from protein is not the same as a calorie from fat, and is not the same as a calorie from carbohydrate. Different foods have indirect effects on energy “intake” and “output” because they require different amounts of energy to process and store. This concept is known as the “thermic effect of food” (TEF). As a result, the composition of your diet will influence energy balance.

There have been various studies that have investigated the TEF of food. Most of these involve manipulating the composition of fats, protein, and carbs in meals and have found that meals higher in protein result in an increase in resting energy expenditure.5

This translates to higher energy expenditure on a diet that’s low in carbohydrates while higher in protein (and fat).

Studies have shown that a diet containing a high protein intake created twice the energy expenditure compared to a high-carbohydrate diet, low-fat diet.6 Resting energy expenditure was measured 2.5 hours after each meal. Body temperature was, not surprisingly, also higher, which could partially explain this difference in energy expenditure.

All this is to say that dietary composition can drastically change the way calories are used by the body, altering resting metabolic rate and the thermic effect of food. On top of physical activity, these three factors contribute to our overall energy expenditure (how many calories we use).

In summary, to claim that “a calorie is a calorie” defies a few well-known thermodynamic laws. Some suggest that this idea is best headed to it’s grave.7

How Macronutrients Affect Hormones

The thermic effect of food isn’t the only variable that is different among carbs, protein, and fat.

Calories aren’t the only thing that determine weight loss. Hormones play a profound role in telling your body what to do with the calories you eat.

The hormonal “big three” when it comes to weight loss are insulin, glucagon, and leptin.

Insulin is perhaps the most well-known of these. When blood sugar rises, insulin is released by the pancreatic beta-cells in order to regulate blood glucose levels. It does this by shuttling glucose into cells (like skeletal muscle tissue) where it’s either used as a fuel source or stored as muscle glycogen.

Insulin is sometimes called the “fat storage hormone” because it promotes fat synthesis / storage, and also suppresses fat breakdown (lipolysis). Basically, insulin is a signal that tells the body there is plenty of fuel around (usually glucose), so fat stores don’t need to be called upon.8

What is a big trigger for insulin levels to rise? High carbohydrate foods.

Glucagon is the “counter hormone” to insulin—it’s released when blood glucose levels are low (and hence insulin is too). Glucagon release is a trigger for the liver to begin releasing stored glucose (glycogen) in order to maintain homeostasis.9 This can be invaluable between meals, during exercise, or any other time glucagon is released, like during “fight or flight” situations.

On low-carbohydrate diets, glycogen will be low, and thus, when glucagon is released, it “searches” for other sources of fuel. In this case, glucagon will lead to the release of triglycerides from fat tissue, which are then broken down into free fatty acids and sent off to the liver to be used in the production of ketone bodies.10

Leptin is a hormone produced by adipocytes (fat cells) and is commonly known as the “satiety hormone.” Leptin signals to the body and brain that there is adequate fuel around, so there’s no need to eat. While only slightly related, leptin resistance occurs in some forms of obesity—the signal stops working. 11

Leptin is a signal that “senses” nutrients—calories in, calories out, and how many “calories” we have stored as fat.

Having enough stored fat, or even fat from dietary sources, can cause leptin to be highly active, leading to satiety.12

Some have proposed that rather than inhibiting food intake, leptin might actually only serve as an “emergency signal of energy depletion” when levels are low. Low leptin or leptin that falls below an individual’s “set point” (that occurs in weight loss, for instance) can promote hunger and weight gain. Either way, having leptin around seems to regulate appetite.

Interestingly, ketogenic diets have been shown to increase serum leptin levels and maintain leptin sensitivity, likely due to the high fat content of the diet.13

The concept that different types of foods can impact how much we eat, regardless of the mechanism, was illustrated in a recently published and well-controlled diet study.

When two diets containing unprocessed and ultra-processed foods were compared side-by-side over 28 days, the ultra-processed diet (containing little-to-no whole foods) caused participants to eat an extra 500 calories per day. Rather than suppressed, appetites seemed to be enhanced when low-quality food was consumed.14 Strike three for junk food.

Nutrition labels are so confusing that sometimes it feels like they’re written in another language

Ketogenic Diets and Weight Loss

Let’s defy scientific practice for a minute and skip to the results section first. Ketogenic diets seem to be better for weight loss and weight loss maintenance in the long term.

In a meta-analysis of 13 diet studies, individuals who were assigned to a very-low carbohydrate ketogenic diet (<50g carbohydrates/day) had significantly more body weight loss (about 1kg on average) in the long term compared to conventional low-fat diets.15

Another analysis, this one including 17 different randomized controlled trials, found evidence that diets with a low-carb intake were associated with significantly greater weight loss compared to low-fat diets.16

A one-year trial compared a diet that induced nutritional ketosis (i.e. ketogenic diet) to a “usual care” intervention in type 2 diabetic patients. It demonstrated that the ketogenic diet intervention was better at reducing weight (by about 14 kilograms) along with improving blood glucose control better than usual care.17

Where does the weight loss come from? Some claim that “it’s all water weight,” but this may only be true initially. In the long term, fat loss may be a substantial portion.

For instance, in one study, weight loss after 15 days on a ketogenic diet was due to total body water (about 2.3 kilograms). After this time point, however, a slight recovery of body water was observed. Water loss may occur due to glycogen depletion. Glycogen is usually stored with water, and so a loss of glycogen means water will come along with it, along with some ketones and sodium.18

In the long term, however, evidence says that most of the weight lost on a ketogenic diet comes from fat, while fat-free mass is probably maintained. Studies have shown that carbohydrate-restricted diets conducted over several weeks lead to reduced body fat mass and maintained, or even increased, lean body mass.19,20

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The Metabolic Advantage of Ketogenic Diets

To claim that “a calorie is a calorie” would require that two diets containing an identical amount of calories could not lead to different amounts of weight loss. This has been shown to be false.

When matched for calories, low-carbohydrate diets (higher fat and protein intake) have a “metabolic advantage” compared to low-fat high-carbohydrate diets.7 What this means is that for the same amount of calories, low-carb diets result in a greater amount of weight loss compared to high-carb diets. This is probably due to their thermodynamic effect.21

The studies showing superior weight loss on ketogenic compared to low-fat diets support this claim, as do trials that measure basal metabolic rate (BMR). Low-carb diets might increase energy expenditure by 100 – 500 calories per day.22

The additional thermic effect of food means that an increased energy expenditure will result in more calories burned, and thus more weight loss in the long term.

Better weight loss probably results from several factors. The first is the high thermic effect of protein. Protein takes more energy to metabolize compared to carbohydrates and fat.

However, some keto advocates advise not consuming too much protein while on keto.

Second, a process called gluconeogenesis (GNG) requires energy. When carbohydrate intake is low (and so are glucose and glycogen), the body uses amino acids (from protein breakdown) to create glucose that’s needed by certain body tissues and cells like red blood cells and certain parts of the eye.

GNG is energetically costly—it’s estimated that around 400 – 600 extra calories per day may be required for GNG to occur (for instance, in someone on a ketogenic diet).23

Keto adaptation also increases the rate of fat-burning compared to other diets.24 Low insulin levels trigger the breakdown of triacylglycerols (TAGs) in fat into free fatty acids. Low insulin also inhibits fat storage.21,24

There’s also the well-known concept that lean mass requires more calories to “maintain” than does fat tissue. Therefore, increasing lean body mass (in the form of muscle) on a ketogenic or low-carb diet can also help to increase your resting metabolic rate.

Not to beat a dead horse, but all of the above statements are supported by the fact that a consistent metabolic advantage (i.e.more weight loss) is seen for low-carb diets in the literature.21,7,25

Appetite Suppression

One reason that some people seem to struggle with long-term weight loss and maintaining weight loss when using “traditional” calorie restricted diets is simple…they get hungry!

Long-term calorie restriction has been called “unfeasible” by many, or otherwise just plain miserable by others. A weight loss regimen is only effective if you can stick to it—hence the failure of many approaches that leave dieters feeling hungry and unsatisfied, just like dinner at an overpriced restaurant.

One of the most touted, research-backed aspects of the ketogenic diet is appetite suppression, which some refer to as “satiation” (basically, the condition of “feeling full” and satisfied).

A common “symptom” of ketogenic diets is that they seem to be superior to other diets in terms of regulating hunger.

This is probably due to the macronutrient composition of keto diets—they’re high in fat and moderate in protein, which are claimed to be more satiating nutrients than carbohydrates. You can sometimes see this for yourself after eating a high-protein high fat meal. You might not feel like eating for a bit. Contrast this with a big bowl of late-night cereal, which leaves you craving even more.

It might not be just a feeling of stomach satisfaction mediating this effect.

Ketosis has been shown to suppress ghrelin, which is often known as the “hunger hormone.”26,27,28 Ketones are thought to act as signaling molecules in the body which might have many effects, one of which is to tell the brain, “Hey, we’re full.”

This effect may be seen with either endogenous or exogenous ketosis.

For instance, an analysis of trials on ketogenic diets showed that individuals on these diets experienced less hunger and a reduced desire to eat, even while they were restricting calories to lose weight.29 For some, this is an unexpected finding, since a common symptom of chronic calorie restriction is complaints of hunger. This didn’t seem to happen on ketogenic diets.

In addition, the BHB monoester that’s found in many exogenous ketone ester supplement are shown to suppress appetite by lowering ghrelin.28 While exogenous ketosis doesn’t confer the weight-loss benefits that endogenous ketosis does, this appetite suppressant effect of ketone supplements could come in handy during an extended fast, or to curb hunger if you are trying to calorie restrict.

Along with exogenous ketone supplements, you can also leverage medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) to help reduce hunger. MCTs are highly ketogenic fats, meaning they’re readily converted into ketones despite not being ketones themselves. You can mix them right into your morning coffee to help help keep the hunger at bay until the late afternoon.

The ability to go long periods of time without hunger and control appetite (rather than let your appetite control you) can be an empowering feeling.

If you’re trying to lose weight or are just looking for a way to remove constant cravings of food throughout the day, eating a keto diet or using exogenous ketones might be a great place to start.

As a result of feeling more satisfied after meals, ketogenic diets might promote a decreased caloric intake as well, if that’s your goal.

Should You Count Calories on Keto?

First of all, one important thing to realize is that calorie counting is inherently a flawed process. There are two reasons for this, which we’ve touched upon.

The first is that, it’s virtually impossible to know exactly how many calories you’re deriving from a food. Digestion, nutrient partitioning, and other factors make this calculation a rough estimate, at best.

Second, the calorie counts for many foods, including produce, will all be different depending on the database you use and where you buy them. The above factors introduce a lot of error into the accurate estimation of caloric “intake.” While you can get a good ballpark idea of your food quantity consumed, take it all with a grain of salt.

So, should you do count calories on keto? Well, this depends.

Initially, counting the number of calories you’re consuming while on keto might be a good thing to do, just to get a general idea of how much you’re eating. “Keto foods” (especially packaged products) are inherently high in fat, making them quite calorically dense and easy to overdo, if you’re not careful; you definitely don’t want to increase your daily caloric intake significantly by eating more fat than you need.

Despite what many people say, it is possible to overdo your protein and fat intake. If you’ve ever found it tempting to throw down an entire jar of peanut butter, you understand our sentiment.

Overdoing it on oils, nuts, butter, even the “healthy fat” sources like olive oil and avocado—this could lead to an increased calorie consumption. The only caveat is that while eating keto, you’ll just be less likely to overdo it.

For an example, let’s take a look at the energy content of some commonly-consumed keto-approved foods. This isn’t to say these foods are bad, but rather than their high caloric density but low physical volume could make them easy to binge on. You might want to make your meal plan less dense in these foods.

Let’s start with cheese, a weakness of many.

One ounce of typical cheese like cheddar or gouda contains about 100 calories, 7g of protein, and 9g of fat. Sure it’s low carb, but bingeing out on a 10oz cheese ball can run you 1,000 calories or more.

Butter and cream are easy ways to get some extra fat into your ketogenic diet, since they can be pretty much be added to any dish. But 1tbsp of butter has 100 calories, and a tbsp of cream has 50. Coconut oil, another popular fat used for cooking and mixing into dishes, has 120 calories per tbsp.

If you’re cooking everything you eat in coconut oil, mixing butter into your coffee, and fitting daily cheese snacks into your diet, this could be a quick way to unknowingly overdo it on your energy intake. This easy to is avoid by being aware of how much you’re eating. Eat mindfully, not mindlessly.

Another easy way to “count” your calories might be to simply observe yourself…or the scale. Maybe you’re not getting the weight loss results you expected, despite being in ketosis a majority of the time. This could be due to the fact that you’re eating too many calories, mostly in the form of fat.

Sure, you’re burning more fat, but a lot of this could be coming from that fat you’re eating, not body fat. In this case, your body fat percentage may change little. While it’s more complex than it sounds, when it comes down to it, weight loss generally requires a calorie deficit, rather than a caloric excess.

You don’t hear of many keto weight gain stories, but they’re out there. However, most likely, strict caloric control or monitoring of calories isn’t necessary. Your resting metabolic rate might also increase due to the lower-carb and higher-protein nature of a ketogenic diet. By promoting satiety, blood sugar control, reducing cravings, and boosting metabolism, high-fat diets are pretty good at self-regulation.

Make Calories Count

If you’re hungry, eat. If you’re not, don’t.

Many people have adopted this way of thinking and experienced life-changing results in response. Everyone loves food, but nobody wants it to control their lives.

Ketogenic diets comprised of whole foods that are high in fat and protein can eliminate the obsessive calorie counting once (and still) espoused by many a dietitian and health practitioner. These results will vary by user, but an overall trend toward success and a healthier life with ketogenic diets is becoming clear.

Overall, keto is about prioritizing quality over quantity, and the results often speak for themselves.

Top 10 keto superfoods

Keto can be hard. Let us help you make it easy. Subscribe to get our list of top 10 keto superfoods for success.

WEDNESDAY, Nov. 14, 2018 (HealthDay News) — Strictly limiting carbohydrates and eating more fat may help the body burn more calories, a new clinical trial shows.

Researchers found that among 164 adults in a weight-loss study, those placed on a low-carb, high-fat diet burned more daily calories, versus those given high-carb meals. On average, their bodies used up 250 extra calories per day over 20 weeks.

The researchers estimated that over three years, that would translate into an additional 20-pound weight loss for an average-height man.

“This study refutes the conventional thinking that it’s only calorie-cutting that matters,” said senior researcher Dr. David Ludwig. He is co-director of the New Balance Foundation Obesity Prevention Center at Boston Children’s Hospital.

Instead, he said, the source of those calories may make the difference in whether your metabolism “works with you or against you.”

According to Ludwig, the findings support a theory called the “carbohydrate-insulin model.” The premise is that diets heavy in processed carbs send insulin levels soaring, which drives the body to use fewer calories, and instead store more of them as fat.

“Our study suggests that you’ll do better if you focus on reducing refined carbohydrates, rather than focusing on reducing calories alone,” Ludwig said.

He and his colleagues reported the findings online Nov. 14 in the BMJ.

Many studies over the years have attempted to answer the question of whether low-fat or low-carb is better for weight loss. Often, they’ve concluded there is little difference.

But those studies, Ludwig said, have typically been behavioral studies where people may or may not stick with their diets.

So his team conducted a “feeding study” to carefully control what people ate.

First, 234 overweight and obese adults were recruited for a “run-in” phase, with the goal of losing about 12 percent of their weight over 10 weeks. Their diets were low-calorie and had moderate amounts of carbs.

Of that group, 164 lost enough weight and moved on to the next phase. They were randomly assigned to either a low-carb, moderate-carb or high-carb diet for 20 weeks.

20 and 50 grams of carbs – how much food is that?

How many carbs are there in common foods? It varies wildly. On this page you’ll find out in a simple way. Like this:

A low-carb diet restricts carbs, for example recommending under 20 net grams per day on a keto low-carb diet.1

You can eat a lot of vegetables before reaching 20 grams of net carbs, even if you add some colorful peppers and tomatoes. Roughly 20 ounces – more than half a kilo – of vegetables, full of other nutrients (low-carb vegetables guide).

On the other hand, just one half of a hamburger bun can contain 20 grams of carbs, adding up to the entire day’s ration of carbs on a keto low-carb diet. In that case, regular bread is not really an option. But there are low-carb breads that are much lower in carbs.

20 grams of carbs in high-carb foods

Just one large potato contains 20 grams of carbs, the daily limit on a keto low-carb diet. As does one half of a large hamburger bun. Or a few bites of rice or pasta.

These foods practically can’t be included at all on a keto low-carb diet, and only in small amounts – if at all – on a more liberal low-carb diet.

Rice can be replaced with cauliflower rice and potato mash can be replaced by cauliflower mash. For a pasta option check out our keto pasta or simply spiralize a zucchini.

Furthermore, there are are tons of other delicious low-carb side dishes that can replace the pasta, rice and potatoes.

More foods to avoid on low carb

20 grams of carbs in lower-carb foods

Getting to 20 grams of carbs by just eating spinach (bottom right plate) requires an enormous effort. At 1.4 grams of digestible carbs per 100 gram you’d have to eat about three pounds (1.5 kilos) of spinach. Please note that this is even more than is shown above, this is simply all the spinach we could fit onto the plate!

However, by adding some slightly more carb-rich vegetables like peppers and cherry tomatoes, it’s quite easy to get to 20 grams (top left plate). Full low-carb vegetable guide

Nuts and berries are moderately low carb, and you’ll have to be a bit careful with them to stay under 20 grams every day.

Low-carb fruits and berries guide

Low-carb nuts guide

50 grams of carbs in high-carb foods

Adding a bit more bread, pasta, rice or potatoes will easily take you above 50 grams of carbs as well – the suggested limit for a more moderate low-carb diet.

It does not take much – for example just three large potatoes or three slices of bread.

50 grams of carbs in low-carb foods

Getting to 50 grams eating only vegetables, nuts or berries is a challenge, but you could do it.

Ask the Diet Doctor: The Case for Carbs

Getty Images

Q: How can I tell if I need to eat more carbs?

A: People often connect feelings of fatigue and brain fog with the need to eat more carbohydrates. These are not necessarily symptoms of lack of carbs but more a sign of insufficient total calorie intake in general. You often will hear that your brain runs on glucose (a.k.a. sugar) and that this is why you need to eat a higher-carbohydrate diet. But I’ve discussed in a previous article how this is more metabolic fairy tale than truth. It is completely safe to cut out carbs and rely on fats alone for fuel, since our bodies do a very good job of making the sugars it needs or finding alternate energy sources. For example, when you drastically reduce or eliminate carbs from your diet, your body is able to make sugar to store as glycogen.

While the question of “How many carbs should I eat?” is always at the top people’s minds, it is important to realize that everything in your diet is relative to the amount of total calories you are eating. Because of protein’s key role in enhancing feelings of fullness and in growth and maintenance of muscle, I always set aside calories to meet optimal protein needs first before setting carbohydrate needs. Let’s look at an example on how to set your starting calories, protein, carbs, and fat levels if you want to lose weight. (Here, more on cutting calories for weight loss.)

RELATED: The Best Carbs for Weight Loss

Calories = Body weight x 12

Protein = 1 gram per pound

Carbohydrates = 0.9-1.25 grams per pound body weight

Fat = The remainder of your calories (Note: There are 9 calories per gram of fat while protein and carbohydrates both contain 4 calories per gram)

So for a woman who weighs 140 pounds:

Calories = 1,700 (1,680 rounded up for ease of calculation)

Protein = 140 grams

Carbohydrates = 140 grams (using 1g/lb)

Fat = 64 grams

The easiest way to put this plan into play (and to find out how many carbs you should eat to lose weight) is to use a food log app like MyFitnessPal (my favorite); enter your calorie, protein, carbohydrate, and fat targets for each day; and do your best to hit these targets.

At this level of calories and carbs, both are restricted but not to the point where you should experience any signs of fatigue, brain fog, or any other miserable symptoms people generally complain of while dieting. Follow this plan for two to three weeks and see how your body responds. If you are not losing weight, then don’t lower your calories but first add some high-intensity exercise (like interval training) to your workout regime, aiming for four hours of total exercise per week. Do this for another two to three weeks. If you need to elicit greater weight loss, then remove about 100 calories (5 grams of fat and 15 grams of carbohydrates) from your daily diet.

RELATED: The Better Way to Try Quick Weight-Loss Strategies

Continue in this fashion, only making adjustments if your weight loss stalls and always opting for adding activity over restricting your calories. Never go below a calorie level of 10 times your body weight.

I find most of my female clients need to eat more calories and eat more carbs per day when starting a weight loss diet-due to the urge to restrict everything to elicit weight loss, they often start out too low. You may be looking at these numbers and thinking this is too many calories and too many carbs per day to lose weight. It isn’t. The key is to be into your weight-loss plan for the long haul. Starting with your calories and carbs a little higher than you traditionally would will give your more room for calorie restriction later in your diet when your weight loss plateaus. (Luckily, if that does happen, we’ve got you covered with these plateau-busting strategies for the gym and for your diet.

  • By Dr. Mike Roussell @mikeroussell

How low carb is keto?

  1. The idea that fewer carbs is always more effective is mainly based on the consistent experience of experienced practitioners, and stories from people trying different levels of carb restriction

    The only intervention study – to our knowledge – that compared different levels of carb restriction was a small trial that found trends towards greater weight loss and greater improvements in cardiometabolic risk factors as carb intake went lower.

    PeerJ 2019: Low-carbohydrate diets differing in carbohydrate restriction improve cardiometabolic and anthropometric markers in healthy adults: a randomised clinical trial

    Ketogenic diets have been found to reduce appetite:

    Obesity Reviews 2014: Do ketogenic diets really suppress appetite? A systematic review and meta-analysis

    Obesity (Silver Spring) 2011: Change in food cravings, food preferences, and appetite during a low-carbohydrate and low-fat diet.
    &larrhk;

  2. Glycemic control appears to improve more the lower carb intake is:

    Journal of the American Dietetic Association 2008: Restricted-carbohydrate diets in patients with type 2 diabetes: a meta-analysis

    This is also based on the consistent experience of experienced practitioners, and stories from people trying different levels of carb restriction .

    Low-carb diets has been shown to help reduce or even normalize blood sugar, and thus potentially reverse type 2 diabetes:

    Diabetes Research and Clinical Practice 2018: Effect of dietary carbohydrate restriction on glycemic control in adults with diabetes: A systematic review and meta-analysis

    BMJ Open Diabetes Research and Care 2017: Systematic review and meta-analysis of dietary carbohydrate restriction in patients with type 2 diabetes

    A non-randomized trial with risk of financial bias shows remarkable effectiveness at reversing type 2 diabetes:

    Diabetes Therapy 2018: Effectiveness and safety of a novel care model for the management of type 2 diabetes at 1 year: An open-label, non-randomized, controlled study

    Full list of studies on low carb for diabetes &larrhk;

  3. Diabetes Research and Clinical Practice 2018: Effect of dietary carbohydrate restriction on glycemic control in adults with diabetes: A systematic review and meta-analysis

    Annals of Internal Medicine 2014: Effects of low-carbohydrate and low-fat diets: a randomized trial
    &larrhk;

  4. Adults in the US consume about 50% of their calories from carbohydrates, or about 250 grams of carbs per day if eating 2000 calories:

    Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
    &larrhk;

  5. A diet under 20-50 grams of carbohydrates “typically leads to the presence of measurable ketones in the urine”:

    The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2007: Low-carbohydrate nutrition and metabolism

    Note that higher levels of carb intake also can be ketogenic in some people, depending on their metabolism and activity level (increased activity can contribute). &larrhk;

  6. Carbs, fats and protein are sometimes called your “macros” — the percentage of the three macro nutrients. &larrhk;

  7. The process of converting excess protein to glucose is called gluconeogenesis (literally “making new glucose”). During digestion, protein is broken down into individual amino acids, which your body can use to make glucose.

    International Journal for Vitamin and Nutrition Research 2011: Protein turnover, ureagenesis and gluconeogenesis &larrhk;

  8. Diabetes Care 1991: Plasma glucose and insulin response to macronutrients in nondiabetic and NIDDM subjects &larrhk;

  9. Gluconeogenesis is a demand-driven process that occurs whenever glucose is needed. For instance, when someone follows a carb-free diet, gluconeogenesis will provide glucose for the few parts of the body that can’t use ketones: red blood cells and portions of the kidney, eye and brain.

    American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2009: Gluconeogenesis and energy expenditure after a high-protein, carbohydrate-free diet

    Very high protein intake on a keto or low-carb diet may also lead to gluconeogenesis.

    Diabetologia 2000: Effect of long-term dietary protein intake on glucose metabolism in humans

    However, reports from physicians who recommend a higher-protein, low-carb way of eating suggest that blood sugar response to this approach can vary quite a bit from person to person.
    &larrhk;

  10. Here are the exact protein limits we use to classify recipes as keto:

    4 % carbs = max 30 % protein
    3 % carbs = max 32 % protein
    2 % carbs = max 34 % protein
    1 % carbs = max 36 % protein
    0 % carbs = max 38 % protein
    &larrhk;

  11. Although some low-carb experts disagree, it’s generally accepted that humans lack the enzymes needed to break down fiber and absorb it into the bloodstream. Therefore, the fiber portion of carbs does not raise blood sugar and insulin levels.

    Nutrients 2010: Effects of dietary fiber and its components on metabolic health &larrhk;

  12. Fiber does not directly affect blood sugar levels, though it can indirectly slow down the absorption of digestible carbohydrates that you eat.

    Fiber can have both beneficial and some potential negative effects on gut health, but it usually has no major impact on the effects of a low-carb diet. &larrhk;

  13. For instance, maltitol – a very common sweetener in low-carb products – has the highest glycemic (35) and insulinemic (27) indexes of all sugar alcohols.

    Nutrition Research Reviews 2003: Health potential of polyols as sugar replacers, with emphasis on low glycaemic properties

    About 60% of maltitol is digested and absorbed in the small intestine, like other carbs.

    Gastroenterology 1990: Digestion and absorption in the human intestine of three sugar alcohols

    Gastroentérologie Clinique et Biologique 1991: Clinical tolerance, intestinal absorption, and energy value of four sugar alcohols taken on an empty stomach
    &larrhk;

  14. This is mainly based on evolutionary theories and clinical experience.

    Focus on eating good quality, minimally processed real food. Ideally the food you buy shouldn’t even have a list of ingredients (or it should be very short).

    Unprocessed real food is what our ancestors have been eating for millions of years, and what the human animal is evolutionarily adapted to. By introducing processing, e.g. refining carbohydrates in a way that increases the speed of absorption and reduces the amount of nutrients and fiber, we change the food into something our bodies may not be adapted to, i.e. we introduce an unknown risk of side effects.

    Learn more: What are you designed to eat? &larrhk;

  15. This is mainly based on the consistent experience of experienced practitioners, and stories from people trying different levels of carb restriction

    The only small intervention study – to our knowledge – that compare different levels of carb restriction found trends towards a larger effects with fewer carbs, for weight loss and cardiometabolic risk factors. However, these trends did not reach statistical significance:

    PeerJ 2019: Low-carbohydrate diets differing in carbohydrate restriction improve cardiometabolic and anthropometric markers in healthy adults: a randomised clinical trial

    Regarding sugar/food addiction, this is likely mostly caused by avoiding the foods that can cause a food addiction, most of which are processed foods full of sugar and/or other refined carbohydrates.

    Just like with any other addiction, avoiding the cause is a necessary part of slowly reducing the addiction. A person who is addicted to alcohol normally can’t consume alcohol “in moderation” and be successful. The same thing is likely true for any addiction.

    In the case of the keto diet, it may also be that the hunger-reducing effect can be helpful:

    Obesity Reviews 2014: Do ketogenic diets really suppress appetite? A systematic review and meta-analysis

    Frontiers in Psychology 2015: Ketosis, ketogenic diet and food intake control: a complex relationship
    &larrhk;

  16. PeerJ 2019: Low-carbohydrate diets differing in carbohydrate restriction improve cardiometabolic and anthropometric markers in healthy adults: a randomised clinical trial &larrhk;

  17. Unless there’s a specific reason for you not to do this.

    Who should NOT do a ketogenic diet? &larrhk;

  18. It can also be helpful to experience it, as it’s a good way to shed a few pounds if weight ever creeps up or weight loss stalls. &larrhk;

  19. Whether people go on a low-carb or a low-fat diet, they tend to lose weight as long as they minimize sugar and refined flours in their diet:

    JAMA 2018: Effect of low-fat vs low-carbohydrate diet on 12-month weight loss in overweight adults and the association with genotype pattern or insulin secretion (analysis)

    Here are more studies and overview articles showing a connection between sugar, excess weight and disease:

    JAMA Internal Medicine 2014: Added sugar intake and cardiovascular diseases mortality among US adults

    Nutrition & Metabolism 2005: Fructose, insulin resistance, and metabolic dyslipidemia

    The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2007: Potential role of sugar (fructose) in the epidemic of hypertension, obesity and the metabolic syndrome, diabetes, kidney disease, and cardiovascular disease
    &larrhk;

Carbs are known to have a bad reputation, but the truth is they’re an important and necessary component of your daily diet. On top of giving you energy, they’re needed to boost your metabolism and — guess what? — help you lose weight. But remember: not all carbs are created equally. Complex carbs and simple carbs differ vastly in their nutritional value, which we’ll dive into more later.

To help you determine the right amount of carbs for your own weight-loss success, we’ve looked to Lori Zanini, RD, CDE, for her expertise.

How Many Carbs the Average Person Should Eat

Lori shared that according to the Institute of Medicine, 45 to 65 percent of the average person’s daily caloric intake should be made up of carbohydrates. It also depends on your specific needs and goals, but this is the basic recommendation.

How Many Carbs You Should Be Consuming For Weight Loss

As a dietitian who specializes in diabetes, Lori recommends staying within the lower end of that 45- to 65-percent range. However, it’s important not to dip below 130 grams of carbs per day.

“The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) of carbs is 130 grams per day, as this is what has been studied and determined to adequately fuel our central nervous system, red blood cells, and brain,” Lori told POPSUGAR.

The Difference Between Good and Bad Carbs

What you want to look for are unrefined (or complex) carbs that are high in fibre, such as root vegetables, quinoa, beans, berries, nuts, and seeds. ” are a vital part to a healthy, active lifestyle,” Lori said. Examples of “bad” (or simple) carbs to limit include sugar (raw and brown), white rice, and corn syrup. These foods spike your blood sugar and often leave you hungry and craving more.

And just because carbs are “good” doesn’t mean they won’t contribute to weight gain if you overeat them. Even the healthiest of carbs, like fruits and grains, can add up. “It’s helpful to understand that carbs digest more quickly than protein and fat, so while it is a great source of energy, it may not always be as filling,” Lori said. She advises against eating carb-only or protein-only meals. Instead, always opt for balanced meals that contain all three macronutrients (carbs, protein, and fat). ” will provide the most benefits, whether weight loss or maintenance is your goal.”

Image Source: Unsplash / Brooke Lark

The Lowdown on Eating Low Carb

So you’re convinced that going low carb is your ticket to feeling healthier this year. You’ll start seeing results as soon as you nix sugar and refined wheat, but that doesn’t exactly count as low carb eating.

Slashing the numbers even more sets you up for the full metabolic benefits of a low carb or keto diet: a better mood, fewer cravings, and maybe fitting back into your favorite pair of skinny jeans for good.

But remember, if you have a metabolic condition like diabetes, you’re playing by different rules. Consult with your doctor or dietitian before starting a low carb diet.

If you don’t have a metabolic condition, these are good daily starting points based on your goals:

100 to 150 grams (the moderate “I wanna stay healthy” approach)

Maybe you’re already pretty healthy. You’re happy with your size. You’re feeling good.

But since you’re always looking for ways to maximize your body’s potential, the moderate approach is a good fit for you. You’re dipping your toes into low carb living to up your healthy juju.

Your strategy:

  • veggies any time of day or night
  • a handful of fruits a day keeps the doctor away
  • moderate servings of starches like potatoes (sweet, russet, Yukon, you name it!) and healthy grains (overnight oats FTW)

50 to 100 grams (the “I wanna get healthier” approach)

You’re hoping to lose a few pounds to feel stronger and healthier without a super restrictive diet.

Or maybe carbs are in the #frenemy zone — you end up bloated, broken out, or sluggish after eating them — but you’d rather repair the relationship than burn bridges.

Your strategy:

  • veggies aplenty (get creative with fun combos like zoodles and mashed cauliflower)
  • any combo of 2 to 3 pieces of fruit each day
  • limited quantities of starches like potatoes, beans, or noodles

Pro tip:

Wanna see a dietitian-approved sample carb plan? Here’s the scoop:

  • 1 banana: 30 g
  • 1 slice of whole grain bread: 15 g
  • 1 cup of beans or lentils: 30 g
  • 1 cup of whole grain pasta: ~40 g
  • 1 cup of rice: 45 g

20 to 50 grams (the “I wanna go full throttle” approach, aka keto)

You’ve got big goals, and you’re in it to win it. Maybe you know you have a lot of weight to drop to get into the healthy zone. Or maybe you’re dealing with obesity or diabetes. This approach is for you.

You’ll really feel the metabolic burn under 50 carbs a day because this kind of eating puts your body into ketosis.

Spilling the tea on keto(sis)

If you’ve listened to your friends gush about a diet full of butter, cheese, and steak, you’ve met the keto trend.

It’s the high fat, moderate protein, low carb diet of choice for Kelly Ripa, Jillian Michaels, and Kourtney Kardashian. Oh, and Halle Berry. Even Tim Tebow has gotten in on the action.

Keto works because it reduces your calorie intake without making you feel hangry all the time.

Loading up on healthy fats and proteins keeps you feeling full while forcing your body to feed off fat-burning ketones instead of the carb-o-licious pizza or peppermint mochas it’s used to tapping into.

Not everyone’s keto journey is rainbows and unicorns, but it’s been a game-changer for many. If you’re choosing a keto diet, talk to a dietitian to ensure you’re not missing out on any important nutrients.

How Many Carbs Do You Need a Day to Lose Weight?

Carbs, also known as carbohydrates, have long been at the center of hot debates in the health and fitness world. Some diets claim that they’re “bad” and promote limiting carb consumption, while other diets embrace carbs and promote daily consumption.

It’s no wonder so many people are confused with what to believe!

The truth of the matter is, carbs are not essential for survival, but you should probably be eating at least some. How many exactly, is debatable.

Keep reading to learn what are the best carbs for weight loss and ways you can estimate how many grams of carbs you need a day to get the best results.

What Are Carbs?

So, what exactly are carbs? You might have heard they are a ‘sugar’, a ‘macro’, or know them just as a label for a collection of foods like potatoes, rice, beans and legumes, etc. Let’s break it down.

Scientifically speaking, carbohydrates are saccharides that contain a mixture of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen in varying quantities. In more simple terms, carbs are a group of macronutrients that supply sugar or starch to the diet. And just like other macros (protein and fat), carbohydrates provide calories – four calories per gram to be precise.

What Foods Have Carbs?

Carbohydrates are found in many foods including fruits, vegetables, grains, beans, sugars and processed foods (1). And although carbs are commonly referred to as “sugars” there is a big difference between getting carbs from processed foods with added sugar and refined grains compared to nutrient dense plant sources.

By rule of thumb, anything that grows out of the ground is going to contain some amount of carbs – so essentially, all plant based foods have carbs. Carbs are also available in many dairy based options like milk.

The Different Types Carbs

Just as the amount of carbs in each food can differ, so can the type. There are three main “classes” of carbs found in your diet, and each type is not always exclusive to one food or another, many foods contain a unique combination of the three. The main types of carbohydrates in food include:

  1. Monosaccharides
  2. Disaccharides
  3. Polysaccharides.

Monosaccharides are the simplest form of carbohydrates. In other words, they are the most broken down already, making them a quick source of sugar in the diet. They provide a sweet taste to foods and include glucose, fructose, and galactose.

Glucose is found in natural sweeteners like honey, molasses, and agave. Fructose is the main type of sugar found in fruit and veggies. And galactose primarily comes from dairy options.

Sucrose, lactose, and maltose are disaccharides. Once eaten, these carbs must broken down into their monosacchride counterparts.

Lactose (glucose + galactose combined) is a sugar in milk commonly associated with dairy intolerance. Sucrose (glucose + fructose combined) comes from sugar beets and sugar cane plants, as well as some fruits. And maltose (two glucose units combined) is the least common disaccharide, coming mainly from malt products.

And finally polysaccharides, the most complex of the carbohydrates, includes starch, cellulose and pectin.

Examples of starchy foods are corn, legumes, potatoes, and grains.

Cellulose is a type of carb than cannot be digested by the body and is commonly referred to as fiber. That’s right! Fiber is a carb. And most fruits, vegetables and whole grains contain cellulose. Pectin is also a fiber, that can be found in the skin of most fruits – and the thicker the skin, the more pectin.

Some carbs can be extracted from food and used in their singular form as an ingredient in processed foods – most commonly as added sugar.

What is Added Sugar?

Added sugar is concentrated simple carbs that are used as a single ingredient, most commonly in processed foods and recipes. This type of sugar can be extracted from carb containing foods or found in naturally occurring sweeteners.

The trouble with added sugar is that it has been linked to numerous chronic diseases like heart disease, diabetes and obesity (2). And it provides a source of empty calories to the diet. Even if the sugar is extracted from a “healthy” source, only the sugar is being used – leaving behind important nutrients like protein, healthy fats, vitamins and minerals that may also be naturally occurring in the food.

So where exactly does added sugar come from?

While there are 50 different names for added sugar on a nutrition facts label, the most common forms come from sucrose and fructose – but sugar can be created from many different types of simple carbohydrates.

Sucrose is essentially the same thing as table sugar. This is because sucrose is extracted from the heavily concentrated sugar beets and sugar cane plants to create table sugar. And fructose is the type of sugar extracted from corn to create high fructose corn syrup.

Natural sweeteners, like maple syrup, honey and agave, can also be considered added sugar as they provide the same amount of carbs per serving and are processed by your body in a similar fashion.

And added sugar can be different than added sweeteners. Sweeteners can also include natural non-calorie sweeteners and artificial sweeteners like sugar alcohols, stevia and sucralose.

Are Carbs Bad?

Your body loves carbs because they are the quickest source of energy you can get, compared to fat and protein that require more work to extract usable energy that your muscles and organs can use. And because of their role in providing an easy source of energy, carbs play an important role for performance, recovery and in building muscle (3,4). They also help regulate your mood and self-control (5). In fact, getting “hangry” is a real phenomenon – a diet lacking carbs can make you feel tired and cause brain fog.

How Your Body Processes, Uses and Stores Carbs

When you eat carbs, they provide your bodies with fuel in the form of glucose – the same sugar that is released into your blood stream. As your cells absorb blood sugar for energy, levels in the bloodstream begin to fall, which in turn signals the liver to release stored sugar to ensure our bodies have a steady supply of it (6).

Your blood sugar levels are tightly monitored and only small amounts of glucose in the blood are used for energy. This is because low blood sugar, or hypoglycemia, can lead to serious medical complications, including death (7). And high blood sugar, hyperglycemia, can also cause a whole host of problems. If your liver seeks glucose and there isn’t any, you’ll know—you may experience severe headaches, fogginess, mood swings, etc.

To supply a more steady stream of energy, carbs are also stored in your muscles and liver as glycogen – this is your back-up fuel! But this storage can become depleted in a couple days if you aren’t eating any carbs or are fasting.

Glucose can also be stored as body fat to add to your long-term reserve fuels, especially when too many calories and carbs are consumed. But this doesn’t mean eating carbs will make you fat! Only a small portion of glucose is stored in fat cells, and you are more likely to store dietary fat as fat over carbs. Not to mention your body is constantly breaking down fat and muscle cells for energy all day long – it is only when you store more fat than you are burning that weight gain comes into play (8,9).

Because a majority of glucose from carbs is stored in your muscles, the more lean mass you have, the more efficiently you store carbs and the less fat you store overall. Giving you another reason to build muscle and strength train.

How Many Carbs Per Day Do You Need?

The US Dietary Guidelines recommends that we get between 45 and 65 percent of our calories from carbohydrates (10). And with the recommended calorie intake anywhere from 1800-3000 calories a day, based on gender, age and activity level, this translates into at least 200 grams or more of carbs per day (11).

Do you know how many grams of carbohydrates you need? Learn how to calculate how many calories you need for weight loss here.

For example, for an individual seeking to consume 2000 calories a day, they should aim for 900-1300 of their calorie intake to revolve around carbohydrates (2000 x .45= 900 & 2000 x .65=1300), equaling out to about 225 to 325g of carbs.

But many popular weight loss diets and health professionals recommend a lower range from 25% to 40% of your daily calories.

What gives?

The thing is, your carb needs are directly related to level of fitness, health goals, body composition and overall diet. And everyone is a little different. If you are extremely active or an athlete, your needs may be closer to the higher end (65% of calories) compared to if your more sedentary, working a desk job most of the day and little activity, you probably need a lot less carbs (maybe as low as 30% to 40% of your calories).

Another way to estimate your carb needs is based on your current body weight. Divide your weight in pounds by 2.2 to get your weight in kilograms. You can then multiply this amount by one of the following:

  • 2.5 to 3.5g/kg for sedentary to lightly active
  • 3.5 to 4.5g/kg for moderate to heavy activity
  • 5 to 7.0g/kg for extremely active

For example, a 150-pound (68.18kg) adult who is sedentary needs ~170 to 238g of carbs per day (68.18kg x 2.5 to 3.5).

Using a macro friendly app, like Trifecta, is also an easy way to get your daily estimate. Plus, tracking your daily intake is a great way to capture how many grams of carbohydrates you are eating every day – helping you to stay on track with calories and carbs.

Looking for help calculating your macros? Set up a FREE consultation with one of our Nutrition Experts here!

What is a “Low Carb” Diet and Do They Work?

Low carb diets are trendy, because people truly believe that carbs are the devil. Most low carb diets recommend eating less than 100g of carbohydrates a day, sometimes as little as 20g.

To put that into perspective, a banana has about 27g of carbohydrates so that would be more than your total carbohydrates for the day (12).

So, do bananas make you fat?

Low carb diets are often used as an approach to weight loss because they help you cut calories. Carbs sneak their way into many favorite foods like snacks, desserts and sweetened beverages. And cutting carb intake allows you to trim these “extra” options from your day and cut calories naturally. This doesn’t necessarily mean it is removing the carbs themselves that are causing the weight loss. In fact, calorie control is the only proven method to lose weight that we know of.

There is also some debate around whether too many carbs can affect your body composition – meaning eating too much can make you have more body fat. But the research hasn’t proven this. In fact, you are less likely to store carbs as fat compared to actual fat in the diet. And most people can tolerate quite a bit of carbs (100g to 500g a day) before their stores reach capacity and fat storage kicks in (13). Plus, a good number of the carbs you eat are used for immediate fuel and organ function, not necessarily storage.

But the theory behind going low carb is not without some research to back it up (14). There are numerous studies that support low carb diets to promote faster weight loss compared to low fat diets. And there are also plenty of studies that show no difference. Including a recent, larger study by Stanford that controls for calories in both diet types and found no significant difference between either approach (15).

In the end, it might be more important to pay attention to the types of carbs you are eating than the amount.

How to Choose the Right Type of Carbs

As mentioned above, not all carbs are created equal. The difference lies in how each carb is digested and utilized by the body. Some carbs, like simple and processed versions, are absorbed into the blood stream very quickly – which work great for pre and post workout nutrition but not necessarily all day long. Whereas other types, like whole grains and fibrous fruits, take much longer to digest – resulting in better blood sugar control when eaten throughout the day as part of a balanced diet.

What are Good Carbs?

Carbs are often described as simple or complex. And the two can be distinguished using the Glycemic Index (GI scale).

The GI serves as a ranking of carbohydrates on a scale from 0 to 100 according to the extent to which they raise blood sugar levels after eating. Foods with a high GI are those which are rapidly digested and absorbed and result in marked fluctuations in blood sugar levels (16).

Some nutrition experts argue that you should choose your carbs based on this measurement. However, the GI does not consider how many grams of carbs are actually in a food and does not consider you diet as a whole, so the glycemic load was introduced as a stronger approach to ranking carb quality (18).

An even easier way to approach the quality of your carb intake is to just choose more whole foods that provide naturally occurring carbs. This includes just about everything that grows out of the ground and some dairy options – you know, the options without a long ingredients list, usually just the food itself.

What Are Refined Carbs?

Refined carbs come primarily from processed foods and added sugars. The classic example is whole wheat flour vs. white flour. Whole wheat flour is made by grinding the whole grain as it is found in nature. Whereas white flour is made from wheat grains whose tough outer layers have been removed (or processed) – creating a lighter fluffier flour option, but also removing a majority of the grain’s nutrients and fiber. White rice vs brown rice is another grain example.

The main problem with refined carbs is their lack of nutritional value compared to their whole food counterpart. And because refined grains make up a decent portion of common foods that we eat, many processed grains are fortified with key vitamins and minerals, like B vitamins, zinc and iron.

But realistically, all types of carbs can fit into a healthy diet, as long as a balanced dietary approach including healthy fats and lean protein is used overall. It really just depends on your personal needs. And remember, no single food or meal is going to make or break your whole diet – its the combination of all the foods you’ve eaten over an extended period of time.

What Does 100 grams of Good Carbs a Day Look Like?

  • 1 cup of cooked quinoa: 40g carbs
  • 1 apple: 25g carbs
  • 1/2 cup of black beans: 20 g carbs
  • 1/2 cup of fresh blueberries: 5g carbs
  • 1 cup Brussel sprouts: 10g carbs

With this 100 grams of carbohydrates you also get 3.5 to 4 cups of food, 25 grams of fiber, 200% of the daily value for vitamin C, 26% of the daily value for vitamin A, and 18% of the daily value for iron (calculated using nutrition info in the Trifecta app).

What Does 100 grams of Refined Carbs a Day Look Like?

  • 1 candy bar (2 oz): 71g carbs
  • 1 can of soda (12 oz): 37g carbs

With this 108 grams of carbohydrates you get significantly less food, only 1 to 2 grams of fiber, 0% of the daily value for vitamin C, 0% of the daily value for vitamin A, and 6% of the daily value for iron (calculated using nutrition info in the Trifecta app).

How to Count Carbs

You don’t need to be a mathematician or a nutritionist to learn how to count your daily carb intake. All it takes is a little investigating and paying attention to what you’re putting in your mouth. Once you understand where carbs come from, the counting part is pretty simple. And if you’re counting macros, you’re counting carbs.

Here are the two easiest ways to track your carbs.

  1. Use a macro friendly nutrition app, like Trifecta, and track your daily food intake. Apps are also a great way to find nutrition information for foods that don’t have a label.
  2. Read the nutrition facts label. Carbs and fiber amounts are clearly listed on all packaged foods. Currently added sugar is not required to be labeled, but you can check for this in the ingredients.

What is Carb Cycling?

If you’re looking to get serious about your macro intake and fine tune your carbs for optimal results, this section is for you.

Because your carb needs are directly related to your fitness and activity level, you can also change your daily intake based on what you’re doing in the gym – this is commonly called carb cycling.

You can also change your carb intake weekly or monthly to support an upcoming race or athletic event, or to help overcome a weight loss plateau. There is some research suggesting that swinging your calories and your carb intake may benefit your metabolism, especially when trying to lose weight or cut calories (19,20). And many popular diet programs use carb alteration to promote more fat loss.

How to Carb Cycle

While the art of carb cycling can get quite complicated depending on your diet goals and how strategic you choose to get, there are some basic principles you can start with.

  1. Eat less carbs on rest days or on days you are restricting calorie intake for weight loss.
  2. Eat more carbs on heavy training days, strength training days, and any time you are needing or using the extra calories.
  3. Eat more carbs around the time of day that you are most active and less during other times of the day.
  4. If you’ve been cutting carbs or dieting for a few months now, it might be worth taking a break and uping your carbs a bit to replenish glycogen stores and reset your metabolism.

When it comes to the type of carbs you are choosing here are a few suggestions you can consider.

  1. Eat more simple carbs before and after a workout session for quick fuel and optimal recovery.
  2. Eat more starchy and high fiber carbs throughout the day to promote fullness and better blood sugar control.

What Are Macro Balanced Meals?

Finally, in addition to the quality of the carbs you choose, what you pair them with can also make a difference. Adding the right amount of fat and protein choices to your meals can not only help you absorb carbs more slowly, but can also play an important role in maintaining a better body composition – helping you accomplish your fitness and body goals (21,22).

All Trifecta meals are specifically designed to include a good balance of all three macronutrients – fat, protein and carbs! And a la carte allows you to be even more strategic about your nutrition by creating your own dishes, based on your unique macro needs and food preferences. Discover more below and find the macro-balanced meal plan that’s right for you.

This is how many carbs you can eat and still lose weight

It seems everyone is shunning carbs these days, especially if they’re trying to lose weight. But how much fun is it to have to give up an entire food group?

In fact, when it comes to long-term sustainable weight loss, evidence suggests carbs may indeed be your friend.

It’s also important to remember that there are plenty of weight-loss options that get the weight off and keep it off while still allowing you to have a life and enjoy foods they love.

One such option is Slimming World. Launched 50 years ago, currently 140,000 of its members have reached their target weight while eating unlimited amounts of many starchy carbohydrates.

That’s why we’ve spoken to Dr Jacquie Lavin, nutritionist and Head of Nutrition and Research at Slimming World, to find out exactly why eating carbs is essential to a healthy balanced diet and weight loss, and some of the practical ways we can eat them and still reach our body goals.

1. Carbs fill you up

At Slimming World, starchy carbohydrates such as pasta, rice, potatoes, cous cous, and quinoa are considered ‘Free Foods’, which you can eat freely to satisfy your appetite.

‘These foods are bulky and provide fibre which makes them filling and satisfying, especially when eaten with foods containing protein,’ says Lavin. ‘They will fill you up for fewer calories, whereas eating the same amount of fat means you would need to consume many more calories to feel satisfied.’

This theory is based on research into food combinations that led to the greatest amount of satiety after eating, Lavin points out. For example, a review published in 2015 in the journal Trends in Food Science and Technology looked at all the research on satiety and found the combination of protein, carbohydrates and small amounts of fat to be the most conducive to satiety and weight loss.

Image: iStockSource:BodyAndSoul

2. Carbs keep you regular

Fact: Aussies don’t get enough fibre and this can lead to sluggishness and constipation leaving us uncomfortable and bloated – not good for weight loss or our health.

Starchy carbohydrates such as rice, pasta and root vegetables contain fibre, which helps keep you regular. While current recommendations for daily fibre intake are 28 grams a day for women and 30 grams for men, majority of us fall short of this.

3. Carbs are full of nutrients

‘If you are really restricting or have completely cut out carbs you are at risk of missing out on a lot of important vitamins, minerals and especially fibre,’ says Lavin.

Carbohydrates turn into glucose in your system and these come from simple sugars – such as those found in chocolate – to those found in fruit and vegetables as well as starchy carbohydrates found in foods such as rice, pasta, wholegrains, pulses and root vegetables.

‘Starchy carbohydrates provide essential vitamins and minerals, especially the B vitamins which are essential to the functioning of the nervous system and support healthy skin,’ says Lavin.

‘Some low-carb diets even cut out fruit, vegetables and low-fat dairy, which puts you at risk of deficiencies in essential nutrients such as iron, magnesium and calcium.’

‘Starchy carbs such as brown rice, millet, barley, cous cous as well as beans and lentils are rich in B vitamins and these are essential for normal metabolism and the release of energy from food and for the functioning of healthy blood cells’, Lavin asserts.

Image: iStockSource:BodyAndSoul

4. Carbs help you keep weight off

People might initially lose weight on low-carb regimes but may not manage to keep the weight off long-term because cutting out carbs isn’t sustainable in everyday life, Lavin asserts.

‘It’s harder to have a sustainable, healthy weight-loss plan when you have banned foods, especially those you enjoy that are part of everyday life.

‘Cutting out carbs makes it harder for people to eat normally (such as when eating out) and puts them at risk of feeling quite deprived and hungry. That can lead to falling off the wagon and giving up on their weight-loss efforts, believing they have failed and that they just can’t lose weight. But it’s the restrictive diet that has failed them.’

5. Carbs fuel your workout

Your body’s preferred fuel source is glucose and while it can make this from protein and fat, it most quickly and efficiently gets it from carbohydrates.

‘You can also burn fat for fuel but this isn’t as efficient and doesn’t start happening straight away,’ says Lavin.

Of course, you can get your glucose from simple sugars such as chocolate, cakes or crisps but these are also high calorie, they won’t fill you up and they provide empty calories, potentially making you want more. Not a good idea.

Carbohydrates are stored in your muscles as a substance called glycogen which the body calls on for energy to power your workout. By far the best source of fuel for your muscles is starchy carbohydrates, especially the wholegrain variety.

Aim to eat starchy carbs a few hours or the night before your workout and you will have an adequate supply of glycogen in your system to power your lifting, your running, your boxing, or all of the above.

Image: iStockSource:BodyAndSoul

6. Your brain loves carbs

You may be avoiding carbs to lose weight, for example on the ketogenic diet. This encourages avoiding carbs so the body produces ketones – a substance it makes as it breaks down fat – to use as fuel. It sounds like a great idea in theory, right?

‘Your body can use ketones but it’s not an optimum fuel source, especially for the brain, which needs glucose to function at its highest level,’ says Lavin.

‘If you’re using ketones as fuel, your body is basically in survival mode, which puts the body under enormous pressure.

‘Over time, these ketone bodies start building up in your blood and this can cause problems; even kidney damage.

‘But even in the short term, depriving your brain of its primary fuel source can lead to low energy, increased hunger, sleep problems, nausea, and poor exercise performance, which are not conducive to weight loss.’

Carbohydrates encourage the release of serotonin, the brain’s feel good neurotransmitter as well as endorphins that have a similar function. It’s why you might crave carbs when you need a pick me up. Trouble is, go for refined or sugary carbs and you will end up with a crash soon after, and craving the same again.

By supplying your body with a regular intake of starchy carbohydrates ideally a few times a day, you give your brain the steady fuel it needs to function optimally and release the feel-good chemicals you need to stay happy and on your weight-loss journey.

7. Carbs are actually quite low calorie

Imagine a portion of cooked pasta – 200 grams worth. It only contains 260 calories while still being filling and containing zero fat. Even with 100 grams of lean bolognaise sauce on top (190 calories) that would amount to 450 calories.

Now imagine steak pie, 200 grams worth. This contains a staggering 679 calories and 48 grams of fat and the chances are you still want to eat your potatoes with it.

Lavin says: ‘There is a robust evidence base which shows that foods higher in protein and carbohydrates are far more satiating than foods rich in fat and fill you up sooner and for longer for fewer calories. Fat contains over double the amount of calories per gram than protein and carbohydrate’.

Now for some practical ways to eat carbs and still lose weight…

Image: iStockSource:BodyAndSoul

8. If you limit your sugar, it’s easier

Sugar (added or ‘free’ sugars) is classed as a carbohydrate, but it’s not going to help your weight loss – it will hinder it. ‘Sugar can provide a lot of calories without any beneficial nutrition, so you’re not getting many (if any) vitamins and minerals with sugary foods,’ says Lavin.

It can also lead to a sharp spike in blood sugar levels and a subsequent crash which can lead to more cravings and weight gain.

Limit your sugar intake to a few squares of chocolate or other small treat daily if you really fancy it, Lavin suggests.

‘Having small amounts of the things they love – measured as what are called ‘Syns’ at Slimming World – gives people a sense of control around food that they have never had before,’ says Lavin

You can choose 15 Syns a day, depending on your weight and goals.

9. Go easy on dry carbs, they can derail the diet

Bread is one carb that should be eaten in a measured amounts at Slimming World, and not eaten freely like other starchy carbs such as pasta, potatoes and rice. ‘Bread doesn’t contain the same amount of water as other carbohydrates (see below), and so it’s not as filling,’ says Lavin.

‘Plus, people rarely eat bread on its own, it’s usually a carrier for calorie dense foods such as butter or jam,’ says Lavin.

‘On the other hand, pasta, potatoes and rice form the bulk of your meal unlike bread which is often eaten on the side of our meal. Our members report it being a real trigger food that leads them to over-eat.’

Image: iStockSource:BodyAndSoul

10. Fill up on high water, high fibre carbs

Grains such as quinoa, millet and buckwheat, wholemeal rice and pasta as well as root vegetables such as potatoes and sweet potatoes are all not only a source of fibre, they’re also high in water (either naturally or because they’re cooked in water).

‘Foods like pasta or rice absorb water when they’re cooked which can make them much more filling than drier carbohydrates, while still delivering the same amount or even higher amounts of nutrients and fibre,’ says Lavin.

11. Control high risk foods (but don’t ban them)

If you’re ever annoyed by people preaching about ‘eating a balanced diet’ thinking ‘if only it were that simple, you’re not alone.

It’s one of the reasons cutting out entire food groups sometimes feels easier. At least you can ban the foods and not have to think about them. But often the opposite happens, right? The banned food is all you can think about resulting in the classic blow-out or binge.

‘Getting control back around high-risk foods is important for members of the Slimming World programme who feel they have never before had control around their favourite foods or drinks such as chocolate, wine, and crisps,’ says Lavin.

Thanks to the Syns system, you could have a small glass of wine (5 Syns) and a small chocolate bar (4 Syns) or a bag of crisps (6.5 Syns) each day and still fall within your 15 Syn limit.

‘Before long, that control you’re practicing – the small daily treats – become a new habit instead of your previous binges’.

Image: iStockSource:BodyAndSoul

12. Control your fat

It’s not popular to be on a low-fat diet these days, with so many high-fat plans doing the rounds.

But low-fat diets do lead to weight loss. In one study looking at all the evidence published in the British Medical Journal in 2012, researchers did a systematic review of randomised controlled trials on low fat diets.

They concluded that low-fat diets led to statistically significant long-term weight loss, especially when followed for between six months and eight years with fat intakes that were between 28 and 43 per cent of their total calorie intake.

‘We recommend people go for healthier sources of fats such as olive oils, avocados, nuts and seeds, but because fat is calorie dense, we also recommend them in limited amounts,’ says Lavin.

For example, 14 cashews would be 6 Syns. Likewise, you can still have your butter or cream, but portioned out – a teaspoon of butter is 2 Syns. This also means trimming visible fat off meat, going for mince that is less than five per cent fat and not eating the chicken skin either.

13. It’s all in the cooking

Along with what you put on them, the way you cook your carbohydrates is essential to where they fit in to your diet.

‘If you’re baking your potato, that’s fine,’ says Lavin. ‘Obviously cooking chips in lots of fat isn’t helpful for weight loss, but there is a healthier way to make chips – you cut them into chips, parboil them and put them in the oven with some oil spray. If you leave the skin on the potatoes, you will be getting extra fibre too’.

This is an edited article, which originally appeared on Healthista and is republished here with permission.

Like this? These are the best carbs to eat for weight loss. Plus, this is the best time of the day to eat carbs if you want to lose weight.

Question: What’s the first thing you think about ditching when you’re looking to lose weight?

Carbs, right? I mean, the most popular diets out there right now—like Whole30, or the keto diet—focus on limiting carb intake, and they seem to yield pretty legit results. So it only makes sense that if you’re looking to lose weight, you’d think to nix carbs from your diet first.

But also, cutting carbs seems…really hard (pasta! bread! granola!). Luckily, nixing carbohydrates isn’t necessary for weight loss—in fact, most people can lose weight without cutting carbs drastically, says Christy Brissette, R.D., owner of 80 Twenty Nutrition in Chicago.

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 (a.k.a., 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. So if, for example, you’re eating 1,800 calories per day, that equates to 203 to 293 grams of carbs per day.

“Dropping carbs below this 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, R.D., a Minnesota-based nutrition and wellness coach.

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.

Still, you probably want to make sure your carbohydrate intake doesn’t surpass 65 percent of your daily calorie intake, says Blom. “This will leave less room for protein and healthy fat intake, which will support satiety (feeling full) and other weight-loss benefits,” she says.

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, which fills you up faster and curbs your appetite better than pasta and doughnuts.

Can you eat too few carbs?

The amount of carbs you need varies from person to person, Brissette says. Some people report feeling better on a lower-carb diet, while others feel exhausted and can’t function well. Carbohydrates are also known to boost athletic performance, especially at a high intensity.

“Athletes need carbohydrate-rich foods before training to store more glycogen in their muscles to fuel their working muscles. They also need a source of quick-burning carbs during intense exercise or endurance exercise, and more carbs after exercise to replenish and recover,” she says.

All About Carbs And Weight Loss

Also important: Eating too few carbs (under 100 grams a day) could possibly impact your memory, according to the Institute of Medicine per the USDA. Drastically slashing carbs may also have a impact on your mood, per Brissette.

“Carbs are your brain’s preferred energy source, and they boost the release of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that lifts your mood and makes you feel happy,” Brissette says. “That’s why low-carb diets are associated with a higher risk of depression.”

Rather than going right to a very low-carb diet such as the keto diet to lose weight, Brissette encourages her clients to start by emphasizing minimally processed complex carbs, reducing portion sizes, and increasing the amounts of non-starchy vegetables they’re eating.

Carbohydrate Calculator

The Carb Calculator estimates the percentage of carbohydrates a person should consume each day.

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What are Carbohydrates?

Carbohydrates (carbs) are one of three primary macronutrients that provide energy, along with fats and proteins. Carbohydrates are broken down in the body or converted into glucose, and serve as the body’s main source of energy. They can also be stored as energy in the form of glycogen, or converted to fat (which can also be used as a source of energy).

Types of Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates are often classified as either simple (monosaccharides and disaccharides) or complex (polysaccharides or oligosaccharides), originally to create a distinction between sugars and other carbohydrates. However, there are many foods that contain multiple types of carbohydrates, such as fruits and vegetables, which can make the classification of certain foods ambiguous. Although carbohydrates are not essential nutrients (nutrients required for normal physiological function that the body cannot synthesize), they are an efficient source of energy that can potentially reduce risk of cardiovascular diseases, obesity, and type 2 diabetes if consumed in controlled amounts.1

The three main types of carbohydrates are sugar, starch, and fiber:

  • Sugars are the simplest form of carbohydrates and can be found naturally in fruits, dairy, and vegetables; they can also be found in processed form in candy, cookies, cakes, and many beverages.
  • Starches are complex carbohydrates that can be found naturally in many types of beans, vegetables, and grains.
  • Fibers are complex carbohydrates that can be found in fruits, whole grains, vegetables, and many types of beans. Fibers are essential for digestion.

Generally, complex carbohydrates have greater nutritional benefit than simple carbohydrates, which are sometimes referred to as “empty carbs.” Added sugars, a common form of simple carbohydrates, have little nutritional value and are not necessary for survival. While the body does require some carbohydrates (which are broken down into sugar), it is not necessary to consume sugary foods to meet this need. Complex carbohydrates such as fiber-rich fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and others, also provide carbohydrates the body can use for energy to function, along with many other nutrients it can use. Complex carbs are also digested more slowly, allowing a person to feel full for longer periods of time, which can help when trying to control weight. On the other hand, foods comprised of mainly simple carbohydrates such as soda, cookies, juice, and other baked goods, often have large amounts of sugars and fats, may potentially leading to weight gain and diabetes since they tend to be easier to consume in excess.2

How Many Carbs Should I Eat?

While this estimate varies depending on a number of factors, the Institute of Medicine recommends that a minimum of 130 grams of carbohydrates be consumed daily for adults. Other sources recommend that carbohydrates should comprise 40-75% of daily caloric intake. Although carbohydrates are not essential nutrients, and there are many fad diets that highly restrict or even eliminate carb intake, there are benefits to consuming a controlled amount of “good” carbs (which will be described below). When carbs are consumed in excess of what can be stored as glycogen, they are converted to fats, which act as stored energy. In a case where insufficient carbs and fats are available to be used for energy, the body will start breaking down protein instead, which can be problematic. Proteins perform many essential functions in the body including serving as the building blocks for tissues and organs, driving many chemical reactions throughout the body, facilitating communication throughout the body, transporting molecules, and many more. Refer to the Protein Calculator for more information.

It is worth noting that not all carbohydrates are made equal. Certain sources of carbohydrates are better than others. For example, whole grains, vegetables, fruits, and beans are better sources of carbohydrates than white bread, white rice, and those in processed foods. Within the context of carbohydrates in a diet, the main difference between simple and complex carbohydrates, sometimes referred to as “refined” and “whole,” or even “bad” and “good” carbohydrates respectively, is that refined carbohydrates have been stripped of natural fiber. This is common in juices, pastries, breads, pasta, and many other common foods. Fiber is necessary for digestion, and it promotes healthy bowel movements and can, in some cases, decrease the risk of certain chronic diseases, according to the US Department of Agriculture. Whether or not carbohydrates are good or bad is often the subject of diet debates. This is because there is truth to both sides of the argument in that not all carbohydrates are the same and some are better than others, and carbohydrates can affect different people in different ways. Below are some of the key characteristics of good and bad carbs3:

Good carbs:

  • contain a low or moderate number of calories
  • are high in nutrients
  • do not contain refined sugars or grains
  • are high in natural fibers
  • are low in sodium and saturated fats
  • are low in, or do not contain, cholesterol and trans fats

Bad carbs essentially are the opposite of good carbs and:

  • are high in calories
  • are low in many nutrients
  • are full of refined sugars (ex. corn syrup, white sugar, honey, fruit juices)
  • are low in fiber
  • are high in sodium and may contain high levels of saturated fat
  • may be high in cholesterol and trans fats
  • are high in refined grains (ex. white flour)

How many carbohydrates a person consumes really depends on many personal factors. There are situations in which a low carb diet can be beneficial, even life-changing, for one person, but having a lower carb diet will not necessarily have health benefits for someone in a different situation. Many healthy foods that are filled with nutrients, such as vegetables, legumes, whole fruits, nuts, seeds, and whole grains contain carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are not inherently bad so long as sugary drinks, fruit juices, and processed foods like cookies and candy, are avoided, or consumed in moderation. Eat enough carbs to suit your lifestyle and maybe seek out a dietitian if considering any drastic changes to your diet.

How many calories should I eat on a low carb diet to lose weight?

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