If you’re trying to lose weight, cutting down on the amount of carbohydrate you consume can be a very effective method. When you limit carbohydrates in your diet, it’s generally recommended to increase the amount of protein you eat to compensate. A major benefit of this way of eating is that a higher-protein diet tends to make you feel fuller. Therefore, you’re likely to consume less calories overall than if you were consuming a diet high in carbohydrates. In fact, many people find that they are able to use this method to lose weight without having to count calories or go hungry.
Chances are, you’ve been wondering just how much carbohydrate you should eat, and what types, in order to achieve safe and healthy weight loss. In this article, we’ll give you all the information you need to determine how many portions or carbs to eat in order to achieve your weight-loss goal.
Why might cutting carbs help me to lose weight?
Cutting down on carbohydrates may sound counter-intuitive, especially as many weight-loss diets have traditionally been based on reducing fat intake or overall calories. It also seems to fly in the face of standard dietary advice, which is to get around 45-65% of your calories from carbohydrates every day. However, for people who want or need to lose weight, cutting back on carbs is a good way to get results more quickly. Reducing your intake to 50-150 grams daily is most likely to yield results.
Research has shown that adopting a diet lower in carbohydrates is actually more likely to lead to weight loss than the traditional high-carbohydrate, low-fat diet plans which many of us are familiar with. A lower-carbohydrate diet requires you to cut down on your intake of sugary and starchy foods such as bread, rice, pasta and cakes. Instead, you should increase the amount of lean protein, healthy fats, vegetables and fruits (in moderation).
The benefit of eating in this way is that it usually reduces appetite and makes you want to eat less. When you don’t feel so hungry, you’re likely to eat less overall and lose weight without needing to count calories. Most high-carbohydrate weight-loss diets, however, are generally only effective if calories are actively restricted.
So, it seems clear that lower-carbohydrate diets are good for weight loss, but do they have any other benefits? The good news is that there are other health reasons to adopt this way of eating. Low-carb diets have been shown to lower blood pressure to healthy levels. They also keep levels of bad cholesterol under control while increasing levels of good cholesterol.
Studies have also shown that low-carb diets help to reduce fat around the abdominal organs in particular. Excess belly fat is strongly associated with a range of serious illnesses. So, reducing belly fat by eating a low-carb diet can lower your risk of developing these conditions.
How do low-carb diets work?
Diets that are low in carbohydrates work by reducing the amount of insulin in your blood. Insulin’s function is to carry glucose to the cells. It’s also needed to store fat. So, it’s thought that low-carb diets help you to lose weight by limiting fat storage because levels of insulin are significantly reduced.
High levels of insulin also lead to water retention. When people first start reducing their carb levels, they tend to lose a lot of the water they’ve been carrying because their insulin levels are reduced. Although this is not true ‘weight loss’, it will cause a significant shift on the scales when you first start a low-carb diet.
How many carbs should I eat a day?
If you’re beginning to see the benefits of eating a low-carb diet, you may be wondering how much carbohydrate you should eat per day. The truth is, there’s no consensus on how low is low when it comes to a low-carb diet. The answer is, to lose weight on a low-carb diet, you should be eating a low level of carbs for your particular body.
In general, people who are very sporty or active can eat more carbohydrates and still lose weight than people with much lower activity levels. So, if you live a very active lifestyle, you may want to begin by restricting your carbohydrate intake very moderately. People with more sedentary habits may need to restrict their intake far more to achieve the same results.
The amount carbohydrates a person should eat to lose weight also depends on their individual metabolism. If a person has developed a condition called metabolic syndrome, they may need to reduce their carb intake more than other people. Metabolic syndrome is an umbrella term used to describe a range of conditions that raise a person’s chances of getting diabetes or heart disease. These conditions include high cholesterol, blood pressure and blood sugar and excess fat carried around the waist.
Because carbohydrate intake is so personal, you will need to experiment with carb-cutting until you find a level at which you are losing weight but still feel healthy and satisfied. If you reduce crabs dramatically straight away, you may find your diet difficult to maintain. So, many people prefer to reduce their carbohydrate levels over time. Here is a rough guide to reducing carbohydrates:
This level of carbohydrate is a good place to start if you were previously eating a very carb-heavy diet and want to reduce your levels gradually without feeling too deprived. It’s also a sensible level to begin at if you’re very active, as you will need more carbohydrates than other people. You can always reduce your carb intake further if you find you aren’t losing weight.
People eating 100-150g of carbs during the day are able to eat a few portions of fruit and some moderate servings of healthy carbohydrates without exceeding their daily limit.
People usually eat this amount of carbohydrate if they are not especially active and want to lose weight, or if they generally gain weight very easily when they eat carbohydrates. At this level, you will still be able to consume fruits moderately. Very small portions of starchy foods can also be eaten.
This is a very low level of carbohydrate intake, ideal for people who are very sedentary or who have metabolic syndrome. However, this level is likely to be too low for people with active lifestyles. People who want to consume just 20-50g of carbohydrates daily should limit their intake of fruit and eat plenty of lower-starch vegetables.
Which carbohydrates should I eat?
If you’re eating a very low-carb diet, most of your carbohydrate will come from lower-carb fruits and vegetables and foods with trace amounts such as avocados and nuts. However, if you are cutting carbs more moderately, you can include some servings of healthy starchy foods in your diet as well.
It’s best to eat complex carbohydrates, especially on a low-carb diet. These types of carbohydrates release their energy more slowly and keep you fuller for longer. They also tend to be higher in fiber which has various health benefits including aiding healthy digestion. Simple carbohydrates such as white bread and pasta tend to cause a blood sugar ‘spike’ which can leave you low on energy quickly and craving more. So, it’s best to stick to carbohydrates such as whole-wheat bread and pasta, brown rice, oats and barley. You will need to measure your servings of carbohydrate-rich starchy foods to ensure you don’t exceed your daily limit.
Do low-carb diets have any risks?
Like many diet plans, some people experience unwanted side-effects on a low-carb diet. Although they are generally considered to be safe for most people, some people find them very difficult to follow. This can lead to them giving up and feeling like they’ve failed in their weight-loss efforts. This is a good argument for reducing carbohydrate levels slowly so that the body isn’t too shocked and to allow you to acclimatize to eating fewer carbs gradually.
Unless you’re careful, a low-carb diet can also become too low in dietary fiber. This is bad news for your gut bacteria and can lead to all-round poor digestive health and constipation. To guard against this, it’s important to incorporate plenty of fiber-rich foods into a low-carbs diet. Fruits and vegetables are good fiber sources. If you’re eating moderate levels of carbs, make sure you eat high-fiber options.
Some people experience a lack of energy on a low-carb diet. This is especially likely if they are very active and have cut their carb intake very low. If you feel tired on a low-carb diet, you may need to increase your intake slightly.
What is the ‘low-carb flu’?
Switching to a low-carb diet can lead to a phenomenon known as the ‘low-carb flu’. This refers to a situation where a person develops flu-like symptoms when they first start a low-carb plan. These include weakness, dizziness, irritability and digestive problems. The severity varies from person to person. Some people will experience no symptoms at all or just very mild ones. Others describe the symptoms of low-carb ‘flu’ as extreme. It usually goes away on its own within a week, although it can occasionally last for longer.
The low-carb ‘flu’ happens because your body has to get used to burning ketones instead of glucose to generate energy. Ketones are a product of fat-burning. This can give the body a real shock and leads to unpleasant symptoms while your body adjusts to the change.
The symptoms of low-carb ‘flu’ can be bad enough to make people want to give up. While there is no way to treat it other than wait for it to go away, there are some steps you can take to reduce the severity and duration of your symptoms. Remaining well-hydrated, getting plenty of sleep and avoiding hard exercise until you feel better can all be effective.
The bottom line
As you can see, low-carb diets can be a good way to lose weight quickly while improving your overall health. If you decide to follow a diet like this, it’s important to ensure that you eat plenty of fruit and vegetables to make sure you get enough fiber and key nutrients.
Before you go on a low-carb diet, it’s a good idea to consult with your doctor, especially if you plan on reducing your carbohydrate intake to very low levels. This is because a low-carb diet may not be healthy in specific circumstances. If you are taking any medications, a low-carb diet may also change the amounts that you need to take. If you feel seriously unwell at any point on a low-carb diet, it’s especially important to seek medical attention.