How many carbs to eat on a low carb diet can be a pretty tricky subject. I’ve been pretty open about the fact that I eat more carbohydrates every day than the average low carb bear. I eat loads of veggies, and have some berries and yogurt. I know – I’m a real wild one. Usually, I can stay in ketosis if I eat up to about 40-50g of carbs daily (with a few lower days in the mix). That’s the range where I feel best.
Yes, it’s a little higher than the average recommended intake of 20g of net carbohydrates, for those on a ketogenic diet, but it works for me. I typically advocate a lower carbohydrate way of living. Which is to say, sugar comes from whole food sources (like plain yogurt, or blueberries), starches are kept to a minimum, and refined foods are reserved for occasional treats. Of course, this can mean different things to different people, and the question I find myself asked most often is, “how many carbs should I eat?“
So… How Many Carbs Can I Eat Every Day?
This isn’t an easy question to answer, for a few reasons. For starters, we all metabolize carbohydrates differently. There are a few factors involved with this, but one of the main ones is how many copies of a particular gene you possess in your DNA. No, really.
The gene is called AMY1, and humans typically have between 2 and 16 copies. The gene is essentially in charge of producing enzymes which can help you to break down starch and sugars. The more copies you have, the more enzymes you have and the more efficient your body is at processing carbohydrates. There are actually studies which have shown a link between lower numbers of copies of this gene, and obesity. Pretty wild, eh?
There are also studies that looked at indigenous diets of varying levels of starch and carbohydrates, and compared that to the number of copies of AMY1 those populations tended to have. Basically, the numbers indicated that higher starch diets tended to be followed by groups with higher counts of AMY1. Fascinating stuff!
So, How Many Copies of AMY1 Do I Have?
I have no idea! There are a few different ways to test your genes, but for most of us, you can kind of go by feeling. Does eating a lot of carbohydrates tire you the heck out? You probably have fewer copies of AMY1.
If you are curious enough to want to spring for genetic testing, you could ask your doctor for options. 23andMe is a company that used to offer AMY1 as part of their reports for at home gene testing, but I’m honestly not sure if they do now, and their website seems to offer no indication either way.
What Else Determines How Many Carbs I Can Eat?
Aside from AMY1, and genetic testing, there are other indicators of how many carbs you can tolerate on a daily basis. On the more obvious end of the spectrum – if you’ve got diabetes of any type, or hypoglycemia, you should probably (definitely) consume fewer carbohydrates [Disclaimer: I’m not a doctor, and this is not medical advice. Please talk to a medical profession before starting any new diet program, etc.].
Those with autoimmune conditions or other inflammatory disorders should also probably stick to the lower end of the carbohydrate spectrum. Carbohydrates are highly pro-inflammatory, and could exacerbate these issues. Another confounding factor could be obesity and weight in general. If you tend to be overweight, and gain easily, this could indicate insulin sensitivity issues and might mean you should keep carbohydrates lower.
Hormone levels can also play a part in how many carbohydrates your body wants to function optimally. Women may want to eat a few more carbohydrates than their male counterparts, to keep hormones in balance. Women with hormonal issues like PCOS, or endometriosis may have to play around with carb levels even more. Pregnancy can also impact how many carbs you can eat per day, but honestly, I’m not going to touch that one. You should definitely consult with a qualified medical professional if you’ve got a bun in the oven. ;)
And even further, other factors that could be related to weight and carb requirements could be a candida overgrowth, or iffy micro biome. Having gut bacteria that is out of balance can make people crave sugar. The sugar in turn feeds these “bad” bugs and yeasts and causes more sugar cravings. If you experience a lot of sugar cravings, you may want to try and go down to the bare minimum for a week to see how you feel.
The point is – this is going to be different for everyone, and you’ll have to play around, but there are some conditions where you’ll want to err on the lower side of things, and some where you may want to actually increase the carbs you eat every day.
So, What About Numbers?
Good point. So, the basic recommendation for ketogenic diets is 20 grams of net carbohydrates per day. “Net carbohydrates” means that fiber isn’t included, as it doesn’t impact blood sugar. Many sugar alcohols are also not included in this number, as they impact blood sugar pretty minimally. There are also people who take this even further and aim for zero net carbs per day. Yes, zero. This is more or less, an all meat diet. But, that’s a bit on the extreme end…
The thing is, even 20 grams is incredibly low. I find it can be a little too low for me, and I usually end up eating a bit more than this. Many people can actually stay in ketosis while eating 30, 40 and even 50 grams of carbohydrates per day. You’ll need to play around a bit (and understand how to tell when you’re in ketosis) to figure out how many carbs works for you.
Of course, “low carb” doesn’t necessarily mean ketogenic. You don’t have to be ketosis to be on a low carb diet. I feel like this is often overlooked by some internet communities. Conventional health professionals tend to consider anything under 150g of carbs per day to be “low carb.” So, you can see that there’s quite a range. If you feel more comfortable at 75g of carbohydrates per day, then by all means, go for it.
The bottom line is that you have to do what’s right for your body. It may take some experimenting to work things out, but that’s okay.