Should You Count Carbs to Lose Weight?

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Are you considering counting carbs to lose weight? Dieters often get confused about whether they should count carbohydrates, count fat or count calories to lose weight. Certainly, there is no shortage of controversy in medical and fitness communities about which method is best. The debate often plays out in the media, leaving consumers baffled.

Confusion About Counting Carbs

If you want to lose weight, which method should you choose? An important article in the Journal of the American Medical Association supports the use of a low-carbohydrate diet for weight maintenance. But after it was published, it inspired a strong debate among physicians and researchers. It seems that no one can agree about which type of calories cause greater harm to your waistline: fat or carbohydrate.

So where does that leave a smart consumer? A recent issue of the American College of Sports Medicine's Fit Society Page summed up a reasonable bottom line. In an article about the value of low-carb diets, they wrote,

"Several large-scale studies have compared popular weight loss diets head-to-head, and none of the diets emerged as the clear winner. This may be partly due to the fact that although people adhere carefully to the restrictions initially, they digress toward old eating habits over time. The boring conclusion is that the people who adhere most closely to the diet recommendations are most successful in their weight loss, regardless of which diet they follow."

Counting Carbs for Weight Loss

If you are trying to lose weight, regardless of which diet plan you choose, watching your carbohydrate intake can be helpful for several reasons. Benefits of counting carbs include:

  • The overall decrease in calories. Most of us eat a diet that is primarily made up of carbs. If you decrease the intake of your most significant source of calories, you will decrease your caloric intake overall. Decreasing carbohydrate intake is one of the easiest ways to decrease the amount of food you eat.
  • Healthier overall diet. A typical American diet includes more than enough white bread, processed crackers and cookies, soft drinks, juices, coffee drinks, and sweetened teas. These foods often have little nutritional value. If you can replace them with better carbohydrate choices like fresh fruits and vegetables, you'll decrease your intake of carbs, increase your intake of fiber and other important nutrients and feel less hungry throughout the day.
  • Increased protein intake. When you limit the number of calories you consume from carbohydrates you make room in a calorie-controlled diet for energy from other sources. That means that if you decrease your carb intake, you can increase your protein intake without increasing your overall calorie consumption. Lean protein will help you to build and maintain muscle and some recent studies have shown that dieters who consume more protein are able to maintain an improved metabolism over time.
  • More healthy fats. A lower carbohydrate diet will also give you room in the calorie-controlled diet to include more fat. Why would fat make your diet healthier? Some fats, like omega-3 fatty acids, help your body to function more effectively and may contribute to a decreased risk of heart disease.
  • Improved medical conditions. Some medical conditions require that you count carbohydrates. The Diabetes Diet, for example, requires that you limit the number of carbs that you consume at every meal to 30-45 grams.​

The Best Carb Count for Weight Loss

So how many carbs should you consume for weight loss? The answer to this question depends on your activity level and your size.

According to the Dietary Reference Intakes of the Institute of Medicine, you should consume between 45% and 65% of your daily calories from carbohydrate.

Guidelines from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics state that regular exercisers should consume between 2.3 and 5.5 grams of carbohydrate per pound of body weight depending on the amount and intensity of training.

Remember that counting carbohydrate does not necessarily mean restricting carbohydrates. A low carbohydrate diet is not necessarily the best diet for you. The best diet for you is a diet that you can stick to. For some people, that is a low carbohydrate diet. But regardless of which diet you choose, counting carbs and making better carbohydrate choices will help you to improve the quality of your diet and your health over time.

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