The ideal amount of carbohydrates for weight loss

Dr. Frank Shallenberger, MD

October 18, 2021


Do you know how many carbs you should eat each day to lose weight? Do you know what the Glycemic Index is? How about the Glycemic Load?

It can get a little confusing. But these are by far the most important concepts you need to know about for diet and health.

First of all, let’s get a clear idea of what is meant by a carbohydrate food. There are two parts to carbohydrate foods. One part is a collection of sugars and starches. These sugars and starches are absorbed into the body. But before they get absorbed, they get digested into pure sugar. Every time you eat a carbohydrate, no matter what kind it is, you are eating sugar.

The other part of carbohydrate foods is fiber. Fiber is completely different from the sugars and starches. It does not break down into sugar. It doesn’t even get absorbed. It simply goes in one end and out the other. Thus it offers no calories to the body. But that doesn’t mean it has no effect.

Fiber slows down the absorption of sugars and starches. The more fiber in a carbohydrate food, the more slowly the sugars and starches will act to raise the blood sugar. The less fiber, the more quickly the blood sugar will go up. A good example is pure sugar. Pure sugar contains no fiber at all. So it causes a dramatic elevation of the blood sugar.

So how can you know which carbohydrate foods raise the blood sugar quickly and which ones raise it slowly? You can look at what is called the Glycemic Index of that food. Carbohydrate foods that are higher on the Glycemic Index are the ones that raise sugars faster. They have the least amount of fiber for the amount of starches and sugars they have. But the Glycemic Index is not the only thing that is important about carbohydrates in your diet.

The other important factor is the total amount of carbohydrates you eat. For example, if I eat a slice of bread, I am eating about 20 grams of a high glycemic carbohydrate. That 20 grams will quickly raise my blood sugar 20 grams worth. Now compare this to if I eat an apple. An average sized apple contains about 30 grams of a lower glycemic carbohydrate. That’s because an apple has a lot of fiber in it to slow down the rise in blood sugar. So my blood sugar will not go up as fast when I eat the apple as it will when I eat the bread. That’s good, right? Not so fast.

Even though the blood sugar did not go up as fast, I still ate 50% more carbohydrate in the apple than I did in the bread (30 grams verses 20 grams). And that means that despite the fact that my blood sugar did not go up as fast, it will stay up longer and I will get a higher level of total sugar delivered to my body when I eat the apple.

So here’s the point. Just looking at the kinds of carbohydrates people eat, high glycemic verses low glycemic is not really enough. We must also consider the total amount of carbohydrate that is eaten. And that’s where another concept called Glycemic Load becomes important.

Many experts think that the Glycemic Load is actually more important than the Glycemic Index. That’s because it not only takes into account the sugar-raising impact of the food, it also takes into account the total amount of sugar you are eating.

So how many carbs should you eat each day for maximum health? Most people need to keep their carb intake to less than 50 grams per day and their sugars to 15 grams daily. Check the labels. If you don’t know the carb load of fruits, it’s best to stick to berries. They have the lowest carb load of all the fruits.



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