Don't Count Calories, Count Carbs


Want to lose excess body fat? The truth is out: If you want to manage your weight, don’t count calories, count (and reduce!) carbohydrates.

Not all calories have the same metabolic effect. While carbohydrate rich foods and protein contain about 4 calories per gram, fat contains more than twice that amount at 9 calories a gram. Yet diabetics are taught to count carbohydrate, NOT fat, when they estimate how much insulin they will need for a specific meal. This is because carbohydrates will increase blood sugar much more quickly than protein, while the blood sugar increase from fats is negligible.  Reducing carbohydrate consumption is the fastest and safest way to reduce the need for insulin, which is a fat-storage hormone. 

Mark Sisson is author of The Primal Blueprint, and the blog called Mark’s Daily Apple. He has illustrated the effects of eating carbs with a chart he calls The Carbohydrate Curve. Based on the numbers and descriptions below, how many carbs should you eat?


300 or more carbs a day is The Danger Zone. This diet is loaded with grains, sugars, cakes, soda, crackers, bagels, chips, pasta, rice, beans, potatoes. It is highly inflammatory and can lead to chronic illness or even death.

150 to 300 carbs a day will result in insidious weight gain. Unless you are an elite athlete with a high demand sport, you will not be able to out-exercise a diet this high in carbohydrates. The result will be a slowly increasing waist line at the rate of about a pound and a half a year, minimum.

100 to 150 grams of carbs a day. This amount of carbs will result in maintenance of a healthy weight when your dietary carbohydrates come in the form of non-starchy vegetables and fruits, and very little or zero grains and sugars.

50 to 100 grams carbs a day. This is the range to aim for if you want effortless excess fat loss. Since non-starchy vegetables, protein and healthy fats are very low in carbohydrates, it would be difficult to eat more than this amount of carbs in a day from those sources, yet you will remain satisfied.

50 grams carbs or less: This is a ketogenic diet, which trains your body to burn your own body fat (which generates ketones)  instead of glucose. This is “the very fast lane” when it comes to weight loss, and requires a significant increase in calories coming from healthy fats, some protein and vegetables in order to stay healthy. Do this with medical supervision or a knowledgeable coach.

OK, so I have decided to count carbs. How many carbs are in a cup of spinach?

When it comes to estimating carbs, don’t over-think it. Most non-starchy vegetables like spinach, other greens, carrots, broccoli, zucchini, celery, bell peppers, onions etc. are going to be low in carbohydrates. The fibers in these foods make them digest slowly, and further reduce their effect when it comes to raising blood sugar.  It would be very difficult to eat enough of this kind of vegetable to get an excess in carbs. Basically, they are “free”!

What about fruits? Fruit can range from 3.5 grams of carbs for a half a cup of raspberries to a whopping 27 grams in a medium size banana. To be safe, skip the banana or very sweet fruits and choose instead small berries such as raspberries or blackberries. Skip fruit altogether if you have a lot of fat to lose. You can always add it back when you have reached your goal weight.

What kinds of carbs should I count besides fruits?

To begin watching, or “counting” carbs, it is important to learn how much food is in one fourth or one half of a cup. When you are starting out, be sure to actually measure the foods until you learn to estimate the volume correctly.  If your half a cup is really one whole cup, you will be doubling your actual carb intake – a very fattening mistake.

Think of a serving size as one half cup, in general. Starchy vegetables such as potatoes and beans are about 15 grams per half cup.

Grains such as wheat bread, rolls, bagels and the like are nutrient poor choices in comparison to other foods. However if you choose to eat them, take a look at the package contents to see the amount of carbs in one serving, as it can vary.

In general the following can serve as a guideline for a 15 gram serving of carbohydrate:

 One half cup of oats, cooked
One third cup of cooked pasta
One third cup of cooked rice
One third cup of quinoa
One slice of bread
Half an English muffin
4 to 6  crackers
One six inch tortilla (corn or flour)
One fourth of a large bagel
One two-inch square of cake or brownie
Half an English muffin

Remember, these are guidelines. Don’t over-think it—but DO think about the carb content of your foods and how they add up by the end of the day if you want to control your weight. It really does “count”!
--Andrea Winchester, Certified Primal Blueprint Health Coach