It’s seemingly common knowledge that eating fewer carbs or adopting a “low-carb” diet is essential for slimming down. But in my experience, most people have no idea where they learned this information, or what even constitutes a low-carb diet plan.
What you eat and how much is extremely important when it comes body recomposition. There is plenty of research indicating that the effects of a “low-carb” diet or a “low-fat” diet are very similar.
What seems to be instrumental in fat loss is protein. When individuals cut either their fat or carbohydrate intake and boost or maintain protein intake, bellies are likely to flatten.
The Best Carb Intake for You
Personally, I tend to keep my carbohydrate intake relatively low at around 100 to 150 grams per day when trying to slim down. I prefer keeping my fats a little higher because I really enjoy peanut butter, almonds, and other nuts.
I find it far easier to cut back on carbohydrate sources, and limit them to fibrous green veggies, a few servings of fruit per day, a serving of oats, and a slice or two of whole grain toast. It just works for me. And when I feel like I need a higher carb day, I simply go for it.
On the other hand, I know people who have had great success by keeping their carbohydrate intake much higher and dropping fat intake. It really comes down to what fits your lifestyle and tastes. And one thing to keep in mind is that you should have fats representing 20% to 30% of your daily caloric intake.
But, you also need carbohydrates to maintain health, and not consuming enough is simply not very good for you. See how you do with at least 150 grams per day, and then go from there.
Okay, so what does low-carb even mean?
In all reality, you could probably achieve a low-carb diet by simply getting rid of processed food, sauces, soda, candy, and other nutrient-deficient, carb-dense items. And, if you replace these with fruit, veggies, legumes, and the occasional whole grain, you’d start to notice the numbers dropping on your scale.
The Three Basic Low-Carb Diet Plans
There are three ways of quantifying what low-carb means.
1. Eating Less Than 50 Grams per Day
This is also known as ketogenic dieting, or a very low carbohydrate ketogenic diet (VLCKD). It’s pretty much an Atkins diet, and relies on fat-burning through ketone production.
It doesn’t really help you to lose fat—at least not over other methods. But, if you can adhere to it and enjoy it, go ahead!
2. Eating Less Than 150 Grams per Day
Your liver stores about 150 grams of carbohydrates for glucose production, and going without carbs for a day or two would deplete this supply. In my opinion, this is considered “low-carb.”
A low-carb diet may make a lot of people feel pretty crappy or experience intense cravings. But for others, like me, it feels fine.
Adding a little more protein to the mix can act as a buffer to replenish the stored glycogen.
3. Eating Less Than the Average
The average American is estimated to eat about 300 grams of carbs per day. So, eating in the 250-gram range or less could also be considered “low carb.”
Consuming between 200 and 250 grams is actually a nice amount because it will keep you well-energized. But you likely won’t notice any metabolic benefits. And, you should note that this is low-carb in a strictly relative sense.
Shift Your Focus to Protein
The common denominator with dieting appears to be protein intake. This makes sense because it’s instrumental in lean mass maintenance and production.
So, when constructing a nutrition plan, start with protein and fill in the rest as you see fit. Also, keep yourself in a caloric deficit. And, if you try to limit processed foods and refined sugars, you’ll see results!
Hu, T., et al., “Effects of Low-Carbohydrate Diets Versus Low-Fat Diets on Metabolic Risk Factors: A Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Clinical Trials,” American Journal of Epidemiology, Oct. 2012; 176(Suppl 7): S44-S54. DOI: 10.1093/aje/kws264.
Shai, I., et al., “Weight Loss with a Low-Carbohydrate, Mediterranean, or Low-Fat Diet,” The New England Journal of Medicine, Jul. 2008; 359: 229-241. DOI: 10.1056/NEJMoa0708681.
Patel, K., “Does “low carb” have an official definition?” Examine, August 8, 2017; https://examine.com/nutrition/does-low-carb-have-an-official-definition/, last accessed August 25, 2017.