There 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.
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.
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.