How many carbs does a person need each day?


plain bagelOne plain, normal sized bagel has about 50 grams of carbohydrates. What does that mean? Anything? Probably not, if you don’t have a basis of comparison. In trying to explain my low-carb diet weight loss to my friends, one question that keeps coming up is, “how many carbs does a person need each day?” So, I googled that exact question and found that the right answer is…..there is no one right answer.

It depends on each individual person, his/her size, age, gender, level of daily activity, and intention: do you want to lose weight? Maintain the weight you’re at? Or maybe you’re doing P90X everyday and you want to bulk up. Each scenario is going to affect how many carbs you should be eating on a daily basis.

When I googled my question the very first thing that popped up was an excerpt from the Mayo Clinic website:  They pretty much spout the Nutritional Guidelines set down by federal government on nutrition–somewhere between 225 and 325 grams of carbs per day. Anther website,, says 100-150 grams of carbs are sufficient to maintain a healthy weight, and eating that many, or few, may help you to lose weight.  That same website also said that, in order to achieve a condition called ‘ketosis’, in which your body consumes fat for fuel in the absence of carbohydrates, you need to eat no more than about 50 grams of carbs per day. From my own experience at “30/10 Weight Loss for Life” I was eating somewhere between 33 and 43 carbs per day. And now, in my third month of maintenance, I’m consuming right around 50 grams of carbs per day.

Aha! I bet you’re seeing that plain bagel, and its 50 grams of carbs, in a whole new light. One bagel nearly exceeds my entire daily allotment of carbs. Just so you know, my overall health is excellent. My weight is firmly in the ‘normal’ range (according to prevailing Body Mass Index charts), my vital signs are all excellent, and I feel great. I do not feel deprived in any way and can visualize eating in this same manner for the rest of my life. In my opinion, a body clearly does NOT need hundreds of grams of carbohydrates each day.

How do you know how many carbs you’re getting in the foods you eat? There are lots of sources online. The Atkins website has an excellent carb counting PDF at For more info you can look up ‘carb counter’ or some search term like that and you’ll find all sorts of resources. Another excellent source of information on low-carb eating is from the man who pretty much spearheaded the low-carb philosophy, Dr. Robert Atkins–“Dr. Atkins NEW Diet Revolution.” This book gets into the science of why carb restriction works, and why low-fat and high sugar diets don’t. It was published in 1992, coincidentally the same year the US Department of Agriculture jettisoned the notion of 4 basic food groups, and set loose upon America the Food Pyramid. (Personally, I think the Food Pyramid, with its enormous recommended daily dose of carbs, did, and does more to promote obesity and its related diseases than any other single factor in American life.)

You can start by doing a mental inventory of what and how much you eat per day. Be honest with yourself. Also, start looking at foods you currently have in your kitchen. Almost all packaged foods have Nutrition Facts on the packaging. Here are photos I took of the Nutrition Facts from a bag of oatmeal, a carton of eggs, and a hunk of cheddar cheese. When I’m looking at one of these I take particular note of:

  1. The portion size,
  2. The total carbohydrate count,
  3. The dietary fiber count, if included,
  4. Lastly, the calorie count.

Nut facts eggs Nut facts cheeseNut. facts oatmeal

Why would the calorie count be the last thing I check out? Here’s a wonderful benefit of eating a low-carb, higher fat diet–your appetite is very effectively suppressed. Your cravings are suppressed. You simply don’t eat as much as you once did. Calories are much less important to me than carb intake.

The portion, or ‘serving size’, however, matters a lot. One egg is a serving. For the cheese, a serving is one ounce, or 1/8 of an 8-ounce package. For the oatmeal, a serving is 1/2 cup dry, or 1 cup cooked. If you choose to eat more or less servings than indicated you’ll have to  do a bit of math to arrive at the correct amount of carbs actually eaten.

Fiber matters when counting carbs. Dietary fiber does not affect blood sugar, so fiber can be subtracted from the total carbohydrate count to give you the ‘net carbs’, or ‘impact carbs.’ On the oatmeal Nutritional Facts, photo on the right, you’ll see that 5 grams of Dietary Fiber are indicated under the Total Carbohydrate count of 39 grams. 39-5=34, so your ‘net carbs’ per serving of this oatmeal, served plain without milk, sugar, or fruit, is 34 grams.

So, what’s the bottom line? You will have to figure out what you want to achieve, take a mental inventory of how you eat now and how you’d like to change things, if at all, and do a bit of research. Sources abound about low-carb lifestyles. As a general guide, based upon my own on-going experience, restricting your carb intake to 50 daily grams or less will effectively melt off your excess fat stores. You just have to make up your mind to do it.

Leave A Reply