How Many Carbs Are in a Low-Carb Diet?

Tracking your carb intake could help with weight loss

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The typical American diet is made up of mostly carbohydrates. If you consider going on a low-carb diet, reducing the largest source of calories in your diet may feel like a challenge. In addition, understanding how many carbs are in a low-carb diet isn't always easy.

Before changing your diet, gathering vital information—such as the number of carbs you need and the best choices for healthy carbs is helpful. Answers to these questions can help you determine the best nutritional plan for you.

What Is a Low-Carb Diet?

Weight loss programs that restrict or require you to count carbohydrates are usually called low-carb diets. But there is no official definition for a low carbohydrate or "low-carb" diet. That means that there is no official number of carbohydrate grams in a low-carb diet.

Low-carb diets typically have a strict initial phase but then loosen up to allow more flexibility with carbohydrates later in the program.

Low-carb diets contain less than 26% of calories from carbs. For most people, that's 520 calories from carbohydrate sources, or 130g carbs per day. Very low-carb diets contain less than 10% of calories from carbs, or 20 to 50g carbs per day (80 to 100 calories).

In comparison, current dietary guidelines suggest consuming 45% to 65% of daily calories from carbohydrates. So if you consume 2,000 calories per day, you would eat 900 to 1,300 carbohydrate calories, or 225 to 325 grams. each day to meet that guideline.

Some diets are very low in carbohydrates. The ketogenic diet, commonly called a "keto diet," is the lowest carbohydrate eating plan. The exact macronutrient balance can vary based on individual needs.

On a high protein keto diet, you might consume as low as 5% of your calories from carbohydrates (60% from fat and 35% from protein). You're likely to consume 70% fat, 20% protein, and only 10% carbohydrates on a standard keto diet. Physicians sometimes prescribe the diet to manage seizure disorders, but some people can lose weight on the program. 

How Many Carbs Should You Cut?

Most low-carbohydrate diets you see advertised recommend limiting your carb intake far below the guidelines recommended by the government. And when you see headlines about low-carbohydrate diets in the news, the low-carb diets studied are often much lower in carbohydrates. 

In one large study of diets, for example, researchers defined a low-carbohydrate diet as any diet that allowed a maximum intake of 60g of carbohydrates per day. Another study described a low-carbohydrate diet as less than 40g per day.

Confused? You're not alone. Nutrition expert Marie Spano, MS, RD, CSCS, CSSD, explains the low-carb question this way: "There is no universal definition of a low-carbohydrate diet. Instead, a low-carbohydrate diet is sometimes defined by the amount of carbohydrate grams consumed, and other times it's considered as a percent of overall calorie intake.

"I generally define a low-carbohydrate diet as one that contains 20 to 70 grams of carbohydrate per day. A very low-carbohydrate diet contains less than 20 grams per day," Spano says.

Low-Carb Diets for Weight Loss

If you decide to count carbs to lose weight, make sure you count them correctly. Remember that there is a difference between grams of carbohydrates and calories from carbohydrates.

On the Nutrition Facts label, food manufacturers must list the carbohydrate grams in their product. Each gram of carbohydrate provides 4 calories of energy. So a food that contains 15g of carbohydrate will provide your body with 60 calories from carbs.


Common Mistakes to Avoid When Starting a Low-Carb Diet

When limiting carbs in your diet, focus on choosing nutrient-dense carbohydrates, such as a variety of non-starchy and starchy vegetables, legumes, whole grains, and fibrous fruits.

You'll also want to educate yourself on the importance of portion sizes and the value of fiber. Limit your intake of refined carbohydrates and beverages and foods with added sugar. Instead, get your carbohydrate calories from fibrous vegetables and whole grains for the best results.

A Word From Verywell

Low-carb diets are one type of diet plan and they may not be suitable for all populations. No matter the type of diet you choose, you will need to create a calorie deficit to lose weight. Choosing to limit one macronutrient is not a surefire path to weight loss and can lead to unnecessary restrictive eating practices. Be sure to discuss your options and concerns with your doctor.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How many carbs is in a low-carb diet for diabetics?

    Recent research has shown an advantage in glycemic control, weight loss, and sustained medication reduction when using a very low-carb diet (less than 14% of calories from carbohydrates) for people with diabetes. Discuss how many carbohydrates you should consume if you have diabetes with your doctor or a registered dietitian, because everyone is different.

  • How long does it take to lose weight on a low-carb diet?

    You may lose scale weight right away on a low-carb diet, as you will lose body water. However, this weight is not fat mass and can return quickly. How fast you lose weight on a low-carb diet depends on your calorie balance and current body composition.

  • Which carb is healthiest?

    There is no single healthiest carbohydrate source. Heathy sources of carbs include fruit, vegetables, and whole grains.

6 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  3. Shilpa J, Mohan V. Ketogenic diets: Boon or bane?. Indian J Med Res. 2018;148(3):251-253. doi:10.4103/ijmr.IJMR_1666_18

  4. Bough KJ, Rho JM. Anticonvulsant mechanisms of the ketogenic diet. Epilepsia. 2007;48(1):43-58. doi:10.1111/j.1528-1167.2007.00915.x

  5. Nordmann AJ, Nordmann A, Briel M, et al. Effects of low-carbohydrate vs low-fat diets on weight loss and cardiovascular risk factors: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Arch Intern Med. 2006;166(3):285-93. doi:10.1001/archinte.166.3.285

  6. Harvie M, Wright C, Pegington M, et al. The effect of intermittent energy and carbohydrate restriction v. daily energy restriction on weight loss and metabolic disease risk markers in overweight women. Br J Nutr. 2013;110(8):1534-47. doi:10.1017/S0007114513000792

By Malia Frey, M.A., ACE-CHC, CPT
 Malia Frey is a weight loss expert, certified health coach, weight management specialist, personal trainer​, and fitness nutrition specialist.