How Many Carbs Per Day on a Low Carb Diet?

By Lee Morgan

Since the late 1990s there has been widespread enthusiasm for achieving weight loss through a low-carb diet. Seen by some as a “diet craze,” the idea of losing weight by eating more protein and limiting carbohydrate-heavy foods, such as bread and pasta, was met with undeniable support despite a lot of skepticism. There are many factors to consider before starting a lo-carb diet.

The Facts

The low carbohydrate diet rose to popularity with Dr. Robert Atkins’ book “Dr. Atkins New Diet Revolution.” The American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) defines the low carbohydrate diet as one that “restricts caloric intake by reducing the consumption of carbohydrates to 20 to 60 g per day (typically less than 20 percent of the daily caloric intake). The consumption of protein and fat is increased to compensate for part of the calories that formerly came from carbohydrates.” The AAFP says that the typical low carbohydrate dieter will generally eat less bread, pastas, cereal, potatoes and rice while consuming higher amounts of vegetables, meat, fish, cheese and nuts.

Counting Carbohydrates

An assessment of low carbohydrate dieting by the AAFP revealed that the typical American diet consisted of 2200 calories per day, with 50 percent of the calories coming from carbohydrates (275 grams), 35 percent of calories from fats (85 grams) and 15 percent of calories from proteins (82.5 grams). Under the Atkins plan, the total daily carbs go down to 13 grams during the induction phase based on a 1152-calorie diet and rise to 35 grams during the ongoing phase based on a 1627-calorie diet. Total carbohydrate grams rise to 95 per day once desired weight is reached for maintenance. Diets vary in the study, ranging from the lowest allowed by Atkins all the way up to the 87 grams per day allowed by the Carbohydrate Addict’s Diet.


Physicians and other health professionals have been skeptical of the benefits of low-carb dieting and suspect that there are several health risks involved. While there is still no concrete medical evidence to support claims by those on either side of the argument a 2008 study by the Defeat Diabetes Foundation added another risk to the list. The study claims that the brain needs energy from carbohydrates to function properly, and that a lo-carb diet could hinder brain function. Energy for the brain comes in the form of glucose, which is often supplied through the breakdown of carbohydrates. Therefore, low-carb diets would give the brain less "fuel," and therefore diminish its function. This speculation was demonstrated as correct by the study of 19 women from 22 to 55 years of age. This more recent finding is in addition to the long-suspected links between low carbohydrate dieting and heart disease.


As with any diet, it only works as long as you stick to it. The low carbohydrate diet is no different, and the long term results are not much different than with any other diet you stick with. According to the Mayo Clinic, low-carb dieters may lose more weight initially than their counterparts on a low-fat, low-calorie diet, but the weight loss may or may not continue long term, depending on commitment to the program.


The tricky part about deciding whether low-carb dieting is for you is that no one is certain of its long term consequences. According to the Mayo Clinic, weight loss is accomplished through this kind of dieting because of the loss of water weight, decreased appetite, an increased feeling of fullness and the overall reduced calories. Along with the weight loss comes the possible health benefits of lowering blood cholesterol due to the loss of weight. Should you choose to eat foods high in saturated fat, the health benefit potential falls considerably.

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