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daily carb intake for weight loss

Navigating the world of carbohydrates can be overwhelming. If you’re on a weight loss journey, you may wonder if you should cut carbs, and if so, what is the ideal daily carb intake for weight loss?

As a weight loss dietitian, I have seen many clients have success with low carb diets, but it’s important not to go too low. There are several factors to consider before starting a low carb diet as well. These include your goals, food preferences, activity level, and overall health status.

What is considered too low when it comes to a low-carb diet, who are low-carb diets best for, and how do you maintain weight loss on a low-carb diet? We’ll answer these questions and more in this article all about daily carb intake for weight loss. Let’s dive in! 

Understanding Carbohydrates

Before we dive into the ideal daily carb intake for weight loss, it’s crucial to first understand what carbohydrates are and the role they play in our diet and overall health. Carbs are often heavily demonized in the diet community. While low-carb diets may work for some people, carbs are not inherently “bad.”

Carbs, just like the other 2 macronutrients protein and fat, play an essential part in many necessary body functions like digestion, metabolism, and our brain function. In fact, carbs are our brain’s preferred energy source. So, we need to maintain a minimal level of carb intake in order to feed our brian.

However, not all carbs are created equal. They are generally categorized into two main types: simple and complex.

  • Simple carbohydrates are quickly digested and can lead to spikes in blood sugar levels. They are found in foods like sugar, honey, and white flour as well as baked goods. Since these carbs digest very quickly and have little nutritional value, they tend to make us more hungry (despite being high in calories).
  • Complex carbohydrates are digested more slowly, providing a steadier source of energy. They are rich in fiber, vitamins, and minerals and include whole grains, legumes, and vegetables.

For the healthiest bread for weight loss and tips on choosing a lower-carb, healthy bread, head to my blog, “5 Healthiest Bread for Weight Loss.

The Role of Carbs in Weight Loss

best carbs for weight loss

While carbs are definitely not the enemy, overdoing it on carbs, especially the not-so-nutritious types, can hinder your weight loss efforts. Here are a few reasons why overdoing it on the wrong carbs can pose a problem:

They are easy to overeat

 Many processed carbs tend not to be very filling, and so they are easy to overeat.

They are high in calories but low on nutrition

Many of the simple carbs specifically are high in calories for a given serving, but low in terms of nutritional value. Because of this, your body may not feel satisfied after eating them versus foods high in protein and fat. Yet, many of these simple carbs are high in calories, which can contribute to weight gain.

They can be addicting for some people

I’ve seen this with some of my clients who truly feel they are addicted to carbs. It’s important first however if you also feel this way to evaluate the situation. Are you truly addicted to carbs, or do you just think you are? Many times I see people feeling out of control with carbs around because they are restricting them too much.

It’s important to note this distinct difference. Avoiding them because you’re afraid they’re bad for you can lead you to feel out of control with them in the first place.

A simple way to test this potential addiction is by pairing your carbs with a protein or healthy fat to see if you feel more in control. For example, if you’re having a slice of bread, add some peanut butter for healthy fat or two eggs with it for protein. Then, see if these added foods make it easier to have just one slice. Or if you’re craving a sugary treat, pair it with a handful of fiber-containing fruit to see if that one cookie then feels like enough. 

How Many Carbs Should You Eat?

The right amount of daily carb intake for you can vary depending on a few factors:

  • Age
  • Gender
  • Weight – Your carb intake is at the most basic level based on your body weight. As your personal dietitian, I calculate your daily carb needs strategically based on your current and goal weight.
  • Activity Level – If you’re more active, an endurance athlete or a heavy weight lifter, you need more carbs to fuel your workouts and aid performance .
  • Health status – for example if you have diabetes or pre-diabetes, you may want to go a bit lower on the carb end.

As your personal dietitian, I take all of these factors into account to calculate your daily carb needs for weight loss. If you’re not yet working with a nutrition professional like myself, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend 45-65% of your daily calories should come from carbs. For someone consuming 2,000 calories daily, this translates to about 225-325 grams of carbohydrate per day.

However, for weight loss, it can be beneficial to start on the lower end of this range, or even as low as 150 grams per day. Research however shows going much below 150 grams may increase the risk of nutrient deficiencies, hunger cravings, and mental fatigue as your brain struggles to get enough of its primary energy source.

When it comes down to it, my focus is always on not necessarily restricting carbs but putting the emphasis on eating more high-quality carbs. 

Choosing High-Quality Carbs

bananas are a healthy carb for weight loss

What are the best carbs to eat for weight loss? As mentioned before, there are simple and complex carbs. Whether you go low carb or not, it’s best to choose the high-quality complex carb options more often for a more nutritious and well-rounded approach. 

Include more of these:

  • Whole Grains: Choose whole grains like quinoa, barley, brown rice, and whole wheat over refined grains. They are higher in fiber and will keep you feeling full longer.
  • Vegetables: Emphasize non-starchy vegetables such as leafy greens, broccoli, peppers, and carrots, which are low in calories but high in nutrients and fiber.
  • Fruits: Opt for whole fruits over fruit juices. Fruits like berries, apples, and oranges offer fiber, vitamins, and antioxidants with a lower glycemic index.
  • Legumes: Beans, lentils, and chickpeas are excellent sources of protein and fiber, making them great choices for a weight loss diet.

You’ll also find choosing these options more often will help enhance feelings of fullness and provide longer-lasting energy. This can help reduce cravings, provide mental and physical energy, and support workout performance. This all helps you burn fat more effectively to get the most out of your workouts.

Reduce these: 

  • Sugar-containing beverages: Soda, juice, energy drinks, sweetened coffees, lattes, and frappuccinos, and alcohol
  • Sweets – Cakes, cookies, pastries, donuts, candy
  • Processed and refined grains – White bread, bagels, muffins, pasta
  • Other foods high in added sugar – Certain granola and protein bars, flavored yogurts, and breakfast cereals. Many of these foods appear healthy or may have some redeeming qualities but are high in added sugar, which can enhance sweet cravings and contribute to weight gain.

**Important – these foods and beverages are not inherently “bad” foods, they are simply ones that serve a different purpose and do not provide as much energy or nutrition. They don’t need to be completely avoided, but when you do have them, try to pair them with a more nutritious option. Examples are a healthy fat or protein to enhance their fullness factor, which will help make it easier for you to eat less of them).

Timing Carb Intake

Regardless of how many carbs you’re taking in, how do you time them out throughout your day? Many clients ask me if they should have more in the morning and less at night. Here is the lowdown:

In general, you’ll want to space your carb intake fairly evenly throughout the day with your meals and snacks (if you feel you need snacks). 

If you are active at certain times of day, for example if you’re a morning exerciser, you’ll want to eat more carbs before your workout and a little extra after to replenish. If you’re not currently active or are not doing it consistently, you should aim for a bit more carbs earlier in the day and less at dinner and after.  For tips on how to get more consistent with exercise, head to my blog “How to stay motivated to exercise, and be consistent.”

This is because in general, most people tend to be more active earlier in the day (even with daily activity) and so the carbs you take in at night may not be processed as efficiently. This can mean you are not burning them off as effectively as you would earlier in the day. Therefore, these small modifications in timing can make a difference.

The takeaway? Aim for about ¼ of your plate to be carbs (primarily the more nutritious types mentioned above), most of the time. Feel free to add an extra serving in the morning or before a workout, and cut back a bit at night.

Managing Your Daily Carb Intake for Weight Loss

So you’re ready to start getting smarter with your carb intake. Here are 3 simple ways to get started:

  1. Track your daily carb intake. You can do this by logging your food intake in a written journal if you prefer to go old-school, or in an app like Carb Manager. Many of my clients find this app very user-friendly, and as their dietitian I am able to view their log and provide personalized guidance and accountability. If you’re not sure what your daily carb amount should be to lose weight, contact me to schedule a free call to see how I help you with this.
  2. Choose high-quality carbs whenever possible. These include whole grains like whole wheat bread, whole grain or chickpea pasta, starchy veggies, fruits, beans, and lentils.
  3. Pair your carbs with a friend. This means that you don’t want to have “naked carbs” by themselves. Instead, always ensure you pair your carb intake with protein, fiber, and healthy fat to help slow carb digestion and aid in satiety. This will ensure you take a well-rounded approach and stay more satisfied on a low-carb diet. More satisfaction = more sustainable weight loss results!

Next Steps

Figuring out your daily calorie and carbohydrate requirements is a fine balancing act. It can feel overwhelming not knowing how much you should be having or following a generic meal plan you think will help you achieve your goals. But, it doesn’t have to be so hard. 

In my 1:1 Sustainable Weight Loss Program, we go through exactly how much you need to have in a given day and how to break it up appropriately to match your preferences, lifestyle, and overall goals. Going too low on your carb intake can leave you feeling hangry, an approach that simply is not sustainable. 

Working with an expert like myself will help ensure you are lowering your carb intake to what it needs to be, but not too low that your body starts calling out for help. If you want to take the guesswork out of your weight loss journey, contact me to schedule a free call to see if we’re a good fit to work together.