This is a question I get asked all of the time!
Cutting down on the amount of carbohydrates in your diet is one of the best ways to lose stubborn body fat. It tends to reduce your appetite and cause sizeable weight loss, without the need for calorie counting or portion control, meaning that you can eat until fullness, feel satisfied and still continue to lose body fat.
What’s the benefit of going ‘Low-Carb’?
Recent studies have shown that following a calorie and fat restricted diet for long periods of time can have very negative side-effects on your body.
An alternative is the low-carb diet which restricts your intake of carbohydrates like sugars and starches (breads, pasta, etc.) and replaces them with protein and fat.
Low-carb diets also have benefits that far surpass mere fat loss.
- They lower blood sugar, blood pressure and triglycerides.
- They raise HDL (the good) and improve the pattern of LDL (the bad) cholesterol.
How do I decide ‘how many’ carbs are right for me?
There is no scientific explanation as to what deems a “low carb diet”, and what is “low” for one person may not be “low” enough for the next person.
An individual’s optimal carb intake depends on age, gender, body composition, activity levels, personal preference, food culture and current metabolic health.
People who are more physically active or have more muscle mass can tolerate a lot more carbs than people who are sedentary: ie those who sit at an office each day. This particularly applies for those who do a lot of high intensity, anaerobic work like lifting weights or sprinting.
Metabolic health is also a very important factor. When people get ‘metabolic syndrome’, become obese or get type II diabetes, these people can’t tolerate the same amount of carbs as those who are healthy. Some scientists refer to this state as “carbohydrate intolerance.”
General Guidelines for a healthier nutrition plan
If you remove the unhealthiest carb sources from your diet, wheat (even whole wheat!) and added sugars, your health will improve dramatically.
If in doubt, give the following guidelines a read in relation to how you can start to effectively reduce your carb intake.
100-150 Grams Per Day
This is more of a “moderate” carbohydrate intake. This kind of plan is more so for those who are lean, active and simply trying to stay healthy or maintain their weight.
It is very possible to lose weight at this (and any) carb intake, but it may require you to count calories and/or control portions which can lead to cravings, starvation or mineral and vitamin deficiency.
Note: There is no physiological need for carbs in our everyday food intake yet we would die without sufficient fat or protein in our diet.
Carbs you can eat:
Several pieces of fruit per day.
Small amounts of potatoes, sweet potatoes and healthier grains like rice and oats.
50-100 Grams Per Day
This range is great if you want to lose body fat more readily, while still allowing carbs in the diet. It is also a great maintenance range for people who are carb sensitive or have any digestive issues when they eat carbs.
Carbs you can eat:
Plenty of vegetables.
2-3 pieces of fruit per day.
Minimal amounts of starchy carbohydrates like the potatoes above, for example.
20-50 Grams Per Day
This is the perfect range for people who need to lose a lot of body fat or have metabolic issues, obesity or diabetes.
When eating less than 50 grams per day, your body will supply energy for the brain via so-called ‘ketone bodies’. This generally kills your appetite and cause you to lose body fat quite rapidly.
Carbs you can eat:
Plenty of low-carb vegetables.
Some berries, maybe with whipped cream (yum).
Trace carbs from other foods like avocados, nuts and seeds.
Low-carb diet is NOT no-carb. There is room for plenty of low-carb vegetables.
Bottom Line: For people who are physically active or want to maintain their weight, a range of 100-150 grams per day may be optimal. For people who have metabolic problems, going under 50 grams per day is a good idea.
Good Carbs and Bad Carbs
A low-carb diet isn’t just about weight loss, it is also supposed to improve your health.
It is very important to choose healthy, fiber-rich carb sources. There is room for plenty of vegetables, even at the lowest end of the carb range.
The real Benefit of going Low Carb
Low-carb diets greatly reduce your blood levels of insulin, a hormone that brings the glucose (from the carbs you eat) into your cells.
One of the primary functions of insulin is to store fat. Many experts believe that the reason low-carb diets work so well, is that they reduce your levels of this hormone. Another thing that insulin does is to tell the kidneys to retain sodium and this is the reason that a diet higher in carbs can cause excess water retention.
By cutting your carb intake, you reduce insulin and your kidneys start shedding excess water too.
Note: It is common to feel less energetic and a little ‘light-headed’ in the first few days of lowering your carb intake. However, most people feel excellent after this initial adaptation phase has passed.
If you want to try this out, then I recommend that you start by tracking your food intake for a few days to get a “feel” for the amount of carbs you are eating.
Just eat some protein, healthy fats and veggies at every meal. Throw in some nuts, seeds and full-fat dairy products for good measure. Choose unprocessed foods. And enjoy the amazing health benefits!