Last Updated on Jun 15, 2018


The macronutrient carbohydrate has always been the talk of the town when weight reduction is the goal. Carbohydrates are the energy suppliers and contribute to most of the calories consumed. Different diets emphasise different levels of carbohydrate restriction. And some diets claim this nutrient to be the villain of their weight loss program. It is often called the “Sweet spot or the Danger Zone”.

There are many popular diets, but most of them fall into four broad categories: low carb, moderate carb, high carb, and very low calorie (fasts, cleansing diets, and single food diets), diets.

Carbohydrates and Weight Loss

Examples of Popular Diets

Low Carb
Moderate Carb High Carb/ Low Fat
South Beach (Phase 1)
Sugar Busters
Protein Power
South Beach (Phases 2,3)
Pyramid Food Guide
Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes
Spectrum (Dean Ornish)

Exploring Low Carb Diets:

Low Carb Diets

Carb intake: Less than 35% of total calories

Foods: Restricts carbohydrate intake (grains and grain products, fruits, sugar, sweets, and starchy vegetables) while allowing greater protein and fat intake.

Carbohydrates and Weight Loss: Low carbohydrates foods

Pros: Satiety, dramatic short term weight loss, lower blood triglyceride levels

Cons: Higher blood LDL and total cholesterol levels, difficulty with diet compliance over long term, weight regain with reintroduction of carbs, lower energy for endurance or aerobic activity, lower nutrient intake.

Moderate Carb Diets

Carb intake: 35 — 50% of total calories

Foods: Emphasis on plant-based fats, leaner protein sources and fish, and less processed/high fiber carbs.

Pros: Heart healthy, better management of Type 2 diabetes, quick weight loss

Cons: If not cared for saturated fat and caloric intake may tend to be high inhibiting weight loss, difficult to sustain on a long run

High Carb Low Fat Diets

Carb intake: more than 50% of total calories

Fat intake: less than or equal to 35% of total calories, with an emphasis on low saturated fat and cholesterol intake

Foods: Most nutritious balanced diets like the DASH diet, Therapeutic lifestyle changes (TLC diet), the food pyramid and the USDA my plate typically recommend servings from all the major food groups with an emphasis on whole grain/ good quality carbs, lean animal foods, and plant-based fats and proteins.

Carbohydrates and Weight Loss: High carbohydrates foods

Pros: lower LDL and total cholesterol levels, high energy levels, higher fiber intake, sustainable healthy weight loss plan

Cons: consumption of refined carbohydrates could increase fat levels.

If diet recommendations are not followed appropriately the diet might lead to weight gain instead of loss. It could lower the good cholesterol levels and might not lower triglyceride levels in the blood.

Very low calorie diets

Diets provide 800 to 1000 calories and are meant to be followed for a very short time.

Generally this diet is prescribed to break the weight plateau or make up for a holiday. The diets are typically very low on cereals and generally revolve around limited variety of foods (e.g. Fish-chicken plan, Egg-soya plan, and Dairy-soya plan). They accelerate weight loss but do not teach how to eat healthfully to control weight for a lifetime.

High Carb v/s Low Carb

Low-carb diets greatly reduce the blood levels of insulin, a hormone that brings the glucose (from the carbs) into cells. Insulin aids the storage of fat. Experts believe that the reason low-carb diets work so well, is that they reduce the levels of this hormone. Another thing insulin does is to tell the kidneys to hoard sodium. This is the reason high-carb diets can cause some level of water retention.

Carbohydrates and Weight Loss: Kidneys

When carbs are cut from the diet, insulin spikes are reduced and the kidneys start shedding excess water too. Therefore it is common for people to lose a lot of water weight in the first few days of a low-carb diet. Studies also show that low-carb diets are effective at reducing abdominal fat (belly fat), which is the most dangerous fat of all and associated with many diseases. The body takes a little time to get used to burning fat instead of carbohydrate to produce energy. This “low-carb flu” usually takes a few days to get over. After the initial phase is over, many people report having more energy than before, with minimum “afternoon dips” in energy that is common on high-carb diets.

At the same time most people go massively wrong on the low carb diet. Loss of energy, opting for processed carbs instead of fibre rich natural foods, high caloric intake through fatty foods, lack of foods rich in protein, consumption of bad fats, high intake of saturated fat and cholesterol, increase in LDL levels, poor lipid profile, poor metabolic health are the most common side effects of a low carb eating pattern leading to poor fitness and fat gain.

Guidelines that Work

The optimal carb range varies between individuals, depending on activity levels, current metabolic health and a bunch of other factors. Physically active individuals have more muscle mass and can tolerate a lot more carbohydrates than people who are sedentary. Particularly those who do a lot of high intensity, anaerobic work like lifting weights or sprinting.

Metabolic health is also a very important deciding factor. When people suffer from metabolic disorders or become obese, rules changes. Quality of carbs, amount of carbs at each meal and carb distribution throughout the day becomes more important.

Cereals, fruits, pulses are all rich in carbohydrates and nature has designed them to be the prime source of energy for us.They form the major foods in our diet. They are meant to be eaten the most. Weight loss is well achieved by eating good quality carbohydrates in a controlled amount coupled with a conscious heart challenging exercise routine.

Carbohydrates and Weight Loss: Exercise

For this reason, it is best to consume real, unprocessed foods and healthy carb sources rather than going too low on them. Planning a weight loss diet along with a dietician helps to get our carb intake right. As the body needs them in majority, depriving the body of them will mostly backfire. Then the diets sustainability and long term effects are most questionable.

The so-called “low carb junk foods” are the worst choice. For improving health, one has to choose unprocessed foods: fish, eggs, vegetables, nuts, healthy fats and dairy products. Whole grains, millets, fibre laden carbs (pulses, fruits) are the right foods to choose. Added sugar is always a bad option and should be avoided.

Choose unprocessed foods! It doesn’t get simpler than that!


  1. Gunnars , K. “How Many Carbs Should You Eat Per Day to Lose Weight?” Authority Nutrition. An evidence based approach.
  2. The Primal Blueprint 21-Day Challenge - (
  3. Agatston, A. “The South Beach Diet”.

Latest Publications and Research on Carbohydrates and Weight Loss


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