Should You Count Calories or Carbs to Lose Weight?

What is the best way to lose weight? People often get confused about whether they should count calories or carbs to slim down. Much of confusion is the result of the calories vs. sugar debate. Does calorie count matter more or should you reduce sugary carbs for weight loss? And what about fat? To get the answer, it's important to sort through the nutrition facts.

Counting Calories or Carbs to Lose Weight

To lose weight, you must create a calorie deficit. That means you need to burn more calories than you consume. In very simple terms, it means that most of us need to eat less and move more. You can burn more calories through exercise or increased daily activity (for example, by boosting your step count). You can also create a deficit if you consume fewer calories each day. So calories do count.

But your intake of fat, sugar, and carbohydrates can affect the total number of calories you consume each day. That means you should pay attention to those numbers as well.

How Each Affects Your Diet

Consuming calories in the form of fat, sugar, and carbohydrates all affect your total caloric intake in different ways.


A single gram of fat provides nine calories. A single gram of carbohydrate or protein only provides four calories. If you eat foods high in fat, your total caloric intake can increase quickly because the calorie cost is high. But, eating healthy fats is important for health.

Fat helps you to feel full and satiated. If you eat a small amount of fatty food, you may feel satisfied sooner and eat less overall. For that reason, foods that contain healthy fats, like certain types of fish, nuts or avocado, can be a smart addition to your weight loss diet. Fat is also essential for the absorption of several important fat-soluble vitamins. It is used for energy when carbohydrates are not available.


Small amounts of added sugar aren't necessarily bad for you. And some healthy foods, such as fruits and dairy products, contain natural sugars that help provide the body with energy.

But many of us consume way too much sugar without even knowing it. Sugar is added to many of the processed foods we eat. Foods like ketchup, salsa or canned soups may contain added sugar even though they aren’t sweet. 

Many of the drinks we consume are loaded with sugar. Increased sugar consumption has been linked to serious health consequences, such as an increased risk for type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, and obesity.

Aside from the health consequences of consuming too much added sugar, there are diet drawbacks as well. Many experts feel that the more sugar we eat, the more sugar we crave. For some people, reducing sugar intake may reduce sugar cravings, resulting in lower total calorie consumption and weight loss.


At four calories per gram, carbohydrates are a good source of energy for your body. Overeating refined carbohydrates like white rice and white bread can result in excess calorie intake, which can cause weight gain, an increase in trigylcerides, and feelings of fatigue. These refined carbs are also lacking in filling fiber and other nutrients that whole-grain foods do have, such as B vitamins.

In addition, when you eat low-nutrient carbs, those items displace healthier foods—including protein, which can help you feel full and eat less. If you choose to count carbohydrates to lose weight, make sure that you keep enough fruits, vegetables, and whole grains in your diet so you get the important vitamins and minerals you need.

A Word From Verywell

To create a calorie deficit and lose weight, most people find it simplest to count calories. It's easy to find the calorie total for most foods, and to log them with a weight loss app or tracker. If you are counting calories, looking at your balance of carbohydrates, protein, and fat can help you plan a well rounded and balanced eating plan.

If you keep your carb intake within recommended guidelines (50% to 65% of your total calorie intake), that leaves enough room to eat protein and fat. By consuming a balanced diet, you are more likely to provide your body with the nutrients and fuel it needs to stay active and healthy.

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4 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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