For the past few decades, health authorities and “weight loss gurus” have recommended that we eat barely any carbs to lose weight. So many people stop eating breads, pastas and other carbs in order to cut the pounds.
The problem is that this diet rarely produces long-term weight loss. Even when people manage to stick to it, they don’t see very good results.
An alternative that has been available for a long time is the low-carb diet. This diet restricts your intake of carbohydrates like sugars and starches (breads, pasta, etc.) and replaces them with protein and fat.
Studies show that low-carb diets reduce your appetite and make you eat fewer calories and lose weight pretty much effortlessly, as long as you manage to keep the carbs down.
In studies where low-carb vs. low-fat diets are compared, the low-carb groups still usually win. So what is the best carb to eat when losing weight: whole wheat pasta.
Pasta made from 100% whole-wheat flour maintains the three essential parts of the whole grain kernel: the bran, germ and the endosperm, says Alicia Romano, registered dietitian at Frances Stern Nutrition Center at Tufts Medical Center. These real-deal whole-grains make the pasta rich in vitamins, minerals, protein and fiber. A 1-cup serving of cooked whole-wheat spaghetti has about 23% of your daily fiber (white pasta has 9%) and 16% of your protein.
Full grain penne pasta in bowl, isolated on white background, top view
“It is bulkier in the gut, more satiating, and thus likely more conducive to appetite and weight control,” says Mark Pereira, PhD, an epidemiologist and associate professor at the University of Minnesota says to Time magazine. Plus, that fiber has a prebiotic effect, which promotes the growth of beneficial gut bacteria, says Mette Kristensen, PhD, associate professor in the department of nutrition, exercise and sports at the University of Copenhagen.
He warns to be sure to read your labels. You want the term “whole” in front of any grain on the label, like “100% whole grains” or “100% whole wheat flour.” Anything without 100% or whole—including the vague term “wheat flour”—is probably refined.
So how many carbs should you eat a day in a “low carb” diet? Here are a few options:
Option 1: 100-150 Grams per Day
This is more of a “moderate” carbohydrate intake. It is very appropriate for people who are lean, active and simply trying to stay healthy and maintain their weight.
It is very possible to lose weight at this (and any) carb intake, but it may require you to count calories and/or control portions.
Carbs you can eat:
All the vegetables you can imagine.
Several pieces of fruit per day.
Some amount (not a lot) of healthy starches like potatoes, sweet potatoes and healthier grains like rice and oats.Option 2: 50-100 Grams per Day
This range is great if you want to lose weight effortlessly while allowing for a bit of carbs in the diet. It is also a great maintenance range for people who are carb sensitive.
Carbs you can eat:
Plenty of vegetables.
Maybe 2-3 pieces of fruit per day.
Minimal amounts of starchy carbohydrates.
20-50 Grams per Day
This is where the metabolic benefits really start to kick in. This is the perfect range for people who need to lose weight fast, or are metabolically deranged and have obesity or diabetes.
When eating less than 50 grams per day, your body will get into ketosis, supplying energy for the brain via so-called ketone bodies. This is likely to kill your appetite and cause you to lose weight automatically.
Carbs you can eat:
Plenty of low-carb vegetables.
Some berries, maybe with whipped cream.
Trace carbs from other foods like avocados, nuts and seeds.
Be aware that a low-carb diet is NOT no-carb. There is room for plenty of low-carb vegetables (full list here). Personally I had never eaten as many veggies as when I first started on a low-carb diet.
Please note: It’s important to experiment with the different levels of carb intake to see how your body reacts, what your energy level is, how your body is eliminating foods and your rate of weight loss.