There are many myths about carbohydrates: Sometimes they are decried as bad, sometimes they are welcomed on the plate. What is certain is that reduced carbohydrate intake helps you lose weight. EAT SMARTER tells you how many carbohydrates you should eat a day to lose weight.
Low carb vs. low fat
The media or nutritionists recommend two fundamentally different diets to help you lose weight. Some experts recommend a low-calorie, low-fat diet to those seeking advice who want to lose weight. Other experts prefer a low-carb diet. While fat is avoided as far as possible in the low-fat diet, the intake of carbohydrates is restricted in the low-carb diet. Carbohydrate sources such as bread, pasta, and sugar are largely being replaced by foods rich in protein and fat.
Recent studies show that a low-carb diet is more effective for losing weight than a low-fat diet. A six-month study compared the weight loss success of subjects who followed a low-fat diet with subjects who followed a low-carb diet. The results of the study clearly showed that the test group that ate a low-carb diet during the six months lost more weight and body fat than the other test group.
The greater success of the low-carb diet is due, on the one hand, to the fact that a high-protein and high-fat diet will keep you full for a long time. Long satiety means that fewer calories are consumed as the day progresses. In addition to greater weight loss success, a low-carbohydrate diet also has a positive effect on health. For example, it helps to lower blood sugar and blood pressure and increases the health-promoting HDL cholesterol.
There is broad scientific evidence that a low-carbohydrate diet is more effective for weight loss and has more beneficial health effects than a low-fat diet.
The individual daily carbohydrate requirement
Exactly how many carbohydrates a low carb diet contains is not defined. How many carbohydrates you should eat a day in order to feel good and lose weight at the same time varies from person to person.
The optimal amount of carbohydrates depends on a number of factors. Gender, age, body composition, physical activity, eating culture, metabolism and personal preferences all influence the daily carbohydrate requirement.
People who do a lot of sport and have a large amount of muscle mass in their body can eat more carbohydrates per day than people who spend most of their day sitting down.
Weight training and sprinting, in particular, use up some carbohydrates.
Another important aspect is a healthy metabolism. People who do not have a healthy metabolism and suffer from metabolic syndrome or type 2 diabetes can tolerate fewer carbohydrates than people with a well-functioning metabolism.
Determine the daily carbohydrate requirement
A sensible start to a low-carbohydrate diet is to eliminate all unhealthy sources of carbohydrates such as sweets, pastries or foods fortified with sugar from the menu. However, in order to achieve optimal weight loss with a low carb diet, you have to limit the consumption of carbohydrates.
Even if there is no precise definition of how many carbohydrates should be eaten per day on a low carb diet, the following guide values can be used as a guide:
100-150 grams of carbohydrates per day
This amount of carbohydrates is known as moderate carbohydrate intake. Consuming 100-150 grams of carbohydrates per day is ideal for lean individuals who exercise regularly.
The goal of moderate carbohydrate intake is to stay healthy and maintain your current body weight.
Although it is also possible to lose weight with a moderate intake of carbohydrates, the daily calorie intake should also be monitored.
These sources of carbohydrates are allowed:
- all kinds of vegetables
- several pieces of fruit a day
- a small amount of healthy starchy foods like potatoes , oatmeal, or whole grains
Tip: 100 grams of potatoes contain around 17 grams of carbohydrates, for example. 100 grams of oat flakes contain around 63 grams of carbohydrates.
50-100 grams of carbohydrates per day
50-100 grams of carbohydrates is the perfect amount to effortlessly lose weight without completely giving up carbohydrates. Even people who suffer from metabolic disorders can tolerate up to 100 grams of carbohydrates a day.
These sources of carbohydrates are allowed:
- most vegetables (not suitable are, for example: corn, peas, carrots and parsnips )
- two to three pieces of fruit a day
- Occasionally small amounts of healthy, starchy foods
20-50 grams of carbohydrates per day
Such a low carbohydrate intake is recommended for all people who want to lose weight quickly – but in no way suitable as a permanent form of nutrition. For a short period of time, people who suffer from metabolic disorders, have diabetes or are obese also benefit, as this type of diet stimulates the metabolism.
The increased metabolism occurs because the body switches to the ketone metabolism with a carbohydrate intake of fewer than 50 grams per day. With the ketone metabolism, the body produces so-called ketone bodies from fatty acids when all carbohydrates have been used up. These serve the entire organism and especially the brain as an energy source. Switching to the ketone metabolism takes a few days.
Until the body has got used to the new metabolism, symptoms such as headache, weakness or fatigue can occur for a few days. After the acclimatization phase, the symptoms disappear again. The benefit of ketone metabolism is that the body now uses fat as an energy source. This can effectively break down body fat.
These sources of carbohydrates are allowed:
- some low-carb vegetables (including, for example: spinach, broccoli, cauliflower, lettuce, cucumber, mushrooms, and tomatoes)
- some berries
- Nuts, kernels and avocados
Important: Everyone is individual and has personal needs. Try for yourself how many carbohydrates you need per day so as not to torment yourself when losing weight and always talk to your family doctor before starting a diet!
Healthy foods are essential
In addition to the goal of losing weight, it is of course also important to stay healthy. Therefore, when choosing food, care should be taken to insure that it is healthy and as unprocessed as possible. Suitable foods for a healthy low-carb diet include eggs, vegetables, fish, meat, nuts, whole dairy products and healthy oils such as rapeseed oil or olive oil.
Foods rich in fibre should be chosen as sources of carbohydrates. For example, a low carb diet with moderate carbohydrate intake can occasionally be supplemented with foods such as potatoes, sweet potatoes, whole grains, rice or oatmeal. In white flour products and foods that are fortified with sugar should be avoided, as these are unhealthy and adversely affect weight loss success.
A low-carbohydrate diet increases fat burning
A low carb diet lowers the level of insulin in the blood. Insulin is the hormone responsible for moving the glucose into cells that are produced when carbohydrates are ingested. Another job of the hormone insulin is to store fat. Experts suspect that the low carb diet burns fat so effectively because it lowers the concentration of the hormone insulin.
In addition to storing fat, insulin instructs the kidneys to store sodium. A lower insulin level, therefore, means that the kidneys excrete excess water retention. It is normal to lose up to five kilograms of water in the first few days of a low carb diet. After the first week, weight loss slows down, but then the desired fat burning begins.
One study compared the body composition of test subjects who followed a low-fat diet with test subjects who followed a low-carb diet. The results of the study showed that those on a low-carb diet lost more fat and gained muscle mass than those in the low-fat group. Studies also show that eating a low-carb diet can be effective in reducing unhealthy belly fat.
Nutrition expert Dr Jens Aberle explains why belly fat, in particular, is so dangerous and should be reduced:
“Belly fat, technically: The visceral fat tissue consists of the fat cells around the organs, around the liver and intestines. This belly fat differs fundamentally in its metabolism from the fat that lies directly under the skin. This belly fat leads to increased formation of secondary diseases of obesity, in the form of diabetes or arteriosclerosis – simply because it is much more metabolically active. And because it produces substances that damage our blood vessels and our heart. “
As mentioned in the upper section of the article, symptoms such as headache, fatigue or weakness can occur in the first few days of a low carb diet. This is because the body first has to adjust to the new form of nutrition and adjust the metabolism. Once this exhausting start-up phase has been overcome, some low-carb supporters report that they even felt more energetic than before the change in diet.
Knowledge to take away
It makes sense to limit the consumption of carbohydrates if you want to lose weight. Numerous studies show that a low-carbohydrate diet is more effective and healthier than a low-fat diet.How much carbohydrates to eat per day depends on a number of factors, such as physical activity, body composition, and metabolic health.
Each person has to test for himself how many carbohydrates he needs per day. As a guide, a healthy person who is physically active and wants to maintain their weight should eat around 100-150 grams of carbohydrates a day. For people who are very overweight or who have metabolic disorders, it makes sense to limit the amount of carbohydrates consumed daily to less than 50 grams.
Eating healthy and, if possible, unprocessed foods is fundamental to a successful low-carbohydrate diet. Suitable sources of carbohydrates are foods with a high fiber content such as vegetables, whole grains or oatmeal. A low carb diet lowers insulin levels, which in turn leads to increased fat burning. In the first few days of a low carb diet, the body mainly loses water retention. Then body fat is burned. Studies show that a low carb diet is effective at reducing dangerous belly fat.