How Many Carbs on a Low-Carb Diet? More Than You Might Think

A picture of How Many Carbs On A Low Carb DietThere seem to be mixed opinions on what actually constitutes a “low carb diet”.

I’ve gotten some really interesting remarks after using these words in some of my articles.

Some people think I’m promoting Atkins to them, and others think I’m telling people to cut out all fruits and vegetables from their diet.

First of all, I haven’t even read Atkins’s book.

In fact, I’m not promoting any sort of “diet plan”. I don’t really believe in “diets”, as they’re unlikely to lead to long-term results.

However, some “diets” (the better ones) put a major emphasis on a lifestyle change, which is the only way to succeed in the long term.

Second of all, I would never tell anyone to remove all vegetables from their diet as that would lead to nutritional deficiencies down the line.

Online, there seems to be a lot of misconception about what “low carb” actually means.

Personally, I consider 100-150 grams per day to fit the definition of low-carb, but everything needs to be put into context.

For a 250 pound powerlifter, 200 grams might be considered relatively low, while 150 grams might be quite high for a middle-aged female who doesn’t exercise.

Individual variability has to be taken into account. Factors like gender, height, weight, activity level and body type do make a difference here.

How Many Carbs Does a “Low-Carb” Diet Allow?

There are specific ranges that I would recommend for the “average” person.

By “average”, I mean an adult, healthy male or female that does a moderate amount of exercise and works a desk job.

  • Maintenance: 100-150 grams of carbs per day (still low-carb!).
  • Weight Loss: under 100 grams per day (still room for 1-2 fruits per day).
  • Fast Weight Loss: under 50 grams per day (protein, fat and veggies).

Now, for every hour of intense activity you can add 50-100 grams of carbs to that amount, preferably starchy ones like rice, oats, potatoes.

A simple guideline, that needs to be adjusted to individual needs. If you’re small, you might need a bit less. If you’re tall and muscular you might need more.

150 Grams of Carbs is Plenty

If your main carbs are fruits and vegetables, then you can eat quite a bit of these foods if your carb range is 100-150 grams.

You can eat several fruit and a whole bunch of low-carb vegetables and still easily remain within your carb range. Just go to Fitday and see for yourself!

150 grams of carbs allows for 2250 grams (79oz) of raw broccoli or 4150 grams (146oz) of raw spinach. Now that is a LOT of plants, and a LOT of fiber.

However, 150 grams of carbs only allow for 5,5 medium bananas. You would do much better for yourself by eating less fruit and more vegetables, since vegetables are way more nutritious.

And let’s not forget that other foods we eat on low-carb are incredibly nutritious as well. Meat, fish, eggs all contain a ton of nutrients. You are not missing out on anything (like some would have you believe) by skipping sugar, most grains, trans fats and seed oils.

The Body Can Produce the Glucose That it Needs

Our livers have a very elegant mechanism for making glucose at times of shortage. This process is called gluconeogenesis, and is taught to everyone in basic biochemistry.

For some reason, dietitians often claim that the brain cannot function without eating several servings of whole grains every day, which obviously makes no sense as humans didn’t have grains until 12.000 years ago (a very short time on an evolutionary scale).

The truth is, that the body can produce glucose out of amino acids (protein), glycerol (parts of the fat molecules) and odd-numbered chain fatty acids.

When the body becomes adapted to a low-carb diet, most of the tissues adapt to metabolizing fatty acids and ketone bodies (made from fats) for energy.

The few cells that desperately require glucose are part of the brain (not nearly all of it) and red blood cells. These cells get the glucose they need from gluconeogenesis, the process I described above.

So in the case of a very low-carb diet (under 50 grams per day) which I often recommend for people who want to lose weight quickly, every tissue gets the energy that it needs. The fact that you need a lot of carbs to function normally is a myth.

The reason people often feel a bit weird for a few days/weeks after lowering their carb intake, is that the body needs some time to adapt to burning primarily fat instead of glucose for fuel. It takes time, but happens. They even have a name for it: “the low carb flu”.

For me it lasts 3 days, then I feel awesome on the 4th day.

Conclusion

I would never recommend a zero carb diet to anyone. The lowest I would recommend is slightly under 50 grams per day, and this especially applies to the obese and the diabetic.

The body has mechanisms to produce the glucose that it is missing from the diet, and no tissue in the body gets left out.

Low-carb diets are the easiest, most effective and healthiest way to lose weight.

I consider this to be pretty much a fact at this point, given the plethora of controlled trials demonstrating its superiorness compared to other approaches.


 

12 Comments

  1. Why would you “never recommend a zero carb diet to anyone”? What if they felt happy not eating carbs? Do you feel a certain small number of carbs *is* essential then? Because that must be the implication of your statement.

    If you thus believe that a small number of carbs *are* essential, then does that not discount your earlier statement that the body can get all the glucose it needs endogenously?

    • Kristjan says:

      Great question, let me explain.

      All the controlled low-carb trials I’ve looked at do include some carbohydrates. They’re “low” carb, not “zero” carb. A zero carb diet would have to be demonstrated to be safe for me to acknowledge it.

      The body can get all the glucose it needs endogenously. This is what happens in starvation. The gluconeogenesis process is very effective, but the smaller carb amount you eat the more protein you’re going to have to replace it with so that the body doesn’t start burning lean tissue.

      There are some populations, like the Eskimos, that have eaten an extremely small amount of carbohydrate throughout, but they had to make arrangements to acquire their Vitamin C that their bodies can not function without.

      It is not the carbs themselves that are essential, but the nutrients (vitamin c, fiber, some phytonutrients) in the plants. You can’t eat plants without getting some carbs at the same time.

      • Danny J Albers says:

        Inuit do not, DO NOT make special arrangements to get vitamin C. They eat their meat raw, and raw meat is naturally ascorbic. Most mammals including seals make their own vitamin C, with humans being the exception.

        Scurvy is the result of eating dried, cooked or preserved meat. Eaters of lightly cooked or raw fresh meat have no such concerns.

        Inuit hunters can travel for 6 months and eat almost exclusively fat and a little lean the entire journey. They call this their hunter diet. They maintain health quite well.

        Depending on the where in the North they live, some tribes will go completely without anything but incidental carbs from the very odd serving of organ meat. Some other tribes will indeed include a multitude of plants.

        A zero carb diet has also been proven safe in Iceland, where from 1200 to 1800 it was effectively cut off from the rest of the world. The diet was completely meat with a rare trip for moss which they made a broth, hardly a carb source… and again a rare trip. No source of vitamin C at all except for fresh meat lightly cooked or raw. For 600 years of human remains not a single cavity was found and remains all seem to be of great health. This is easily verified if you care to look as it is recent history.

        • Danny J Albers says:

          Would recommend as a source of witness accounts reading the Fat of the Land.

        • I think you’ve been misinformed. The Inuit did eat some plants, and in order to preserve the Vitamin C you’d need to eat a lot of your animals, including organs, either raw or boiled.

          “Certain foods which are not abundant but are eaten when available can augment vitamin C intake. This is particularly true of such items as licorice root, mountain sorrel and “muktuk.” Muktuk is undoubtedly the most prized delicacy. It consists of the skin of the beluga whale, with about 2-4 cm of attached blubber.”

          http://pubs.aina.ucalgary.ca/arctic/Arctic32-2-135.pdf

          Kind of funny that you should mention Iceland, because that’s where I’m from. Not that I’m any wiz on history, but we were never completely isolated. There was always some commerce going on between Iceland, the english and the nordic countries.

          Plus there are plenty of plants that grow naturally in Iceland, including Barley (a grain) that was cultivated here from 8/900-1600. After that it was imported. I’m pretty sure potatoes and possibly even oats were grown here too.

          “With the settlement of the country (around 800–900 AD), grain (barley) was brought to Iceland, cultivated and used for bread and porridge. In Mediaeval times, wheat was to some extent imported. However, it was mostly used for bread for chiefs and for oblates. Grain cultivation is thought to have been abandoned before 1600 due to harsher climatic conditions, and subsequently most grains such as barley and rye were imported. Until the late 19th century, wheat was mostly bought by richer people. In the 17th century, rye and barley were the most common grains, with rye becoming more prominent in the 18th and 19th centuries.”

          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Icelandic_cuisine#Medieval_Iceland

          Trust me, Icelandic health was NOT good. At some time points a large part of the nation died from infectious disease, and once from starvation. Severe starvation, poverty and extremely poor health were common in Iceland.

  2. Enjoying the blog.

    Just as a quick typo alert, when you mentioned raw broccoli and spinach quantities, you meant to say kg, not grams.

    • Kristjan says:

      Thanks, Garry. Actually I used the dot as a marker for thousand, as in 1.000 = one thousand. I’ve fixed it now to prevent any confusion.

  3. People may be quick to criticise Dr. Robert Atins diet but he was actually spot on, by reading his book and putting his low carb diet to the test i managed to eliminate type 2 diabetes, recurring migraine headaches (no longer need to take strong codeine medication which can only be a good thing), i have lost lots of excess weight, my skin is better (no more spots) and i have much more energy, i eat lots of vegetables and meat on his plan, i’m just trying to maintain now so my carb allowance has increased from the induction phase, i don’t think it is fair to call his diet plan unhealthy, i think it is very healthy and i know a lot of people are agree with his diet now.

  4. what about things like gluttinous rice and sprouted grain bread?
    I’ve been eating nothing but beef, eggs, cheese, butter, milk and green vegetables everyday.
    Quite frankly its been driving me nuts, I’ve been losing weight faster but I think its water retention, and I haven’t been feeling good/healthy anymore. I feel sickish alot after eating so much meat/eggs.
    You said rice is fine but brown rice/wild rice or gluttinous white rice?
    Since gluttinous white rice doesn’t seem very healthy to me….
    Oh what is you veiw on sprouted grain bread? I heard its good for low-carb but I’ve also heard its as bad as regular.
    Thanks so much for your time and effort :) I really enjoy looking through your blogs and learning new things/

  5. Bryanna says:

    Hi,
    Within the last week or so, I have decided to cut back significantly on my carbs. I’m 235, 5’7″, and do the Sprint 8 workout approx. 4-5 times a week as well as walk at a moderate speed on my 30 min lunch breaks. I’m averaging around 30-50 carbs per day…by way of veggies, little bit of fruit, cottage cheese/cheese, and of course lean meats and eggs. I haven’t noticed any weight loss, although I have had a couple compliments that I look like I am losing weight. I guess I’m asking…am I doing enough? Do I need to work out more, eat less carbs? Please give me some feedback. Thank you so much .

  6. Hey Kriskris,
    Thanks you for your post, Im having a fun girls night out and would love to have a dirty martini (my normal drink when out) However ive been trying to watch my carbs lately. If a dirty martini isn’t the best drink anything else I should stick to, that is low carb?
    Catch you again soon!

  7. Kriskris

    I enjoyed your article. I am at the end of the first week of a low carb diet and I am enjoying it very much (and seen some weight loss too) My biggest downfall is bread, pizza and pastries. The great thing is I am not missing them. I am also a pescatarian and traditional weight loss diets also eliminate the other love of my life: cheese and oily fish.

    I think low carb diets are suitable for people that love their food (a little too much sometimes) so I don’t feel as though I am restricting anything ‘naughty’ from my diet.

    Can I ask you if you calculate net carbs? Carbs-fibre? Also are there any foods that aren’t high in carbs but do not really help you when you are trying to maintain a low carb diet? Does coffee hinder Gluconeogenesis or anything else spring to mind?

    Takk fyrir

    James

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