Is It Better to Count Calories or Carbohydrates to Lose Weight?

Is It Better to Count Calories or Carbohydrates to Lose Weight?

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Protein helps maintain lean muscle during weight loss.

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Your total calorie consumption is what counts for effective weight loss - regardless of your carbohydrate intake. However, because overindulging in carbs can cause you to exceed your weight-loss calorie allotment, carb intake is also important. It's a good idea to track both your total calories and carbs.

Weight Loss Calories

To successfully shed pounds, eat 500 to 1,000 fewer calories than your weight-maintenance calorie needs - which you can determine using the American Council on Exercise Daily Caloric Needs Estimator. Doing this will help you lose about 1 to 2 pounds weekly, which is the rate recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. For many adults, eating 1,200 to 1,600 calories per day is safe and effective for weight loss, notes the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute.

Tracking Your Intake

Keep a food journal by writing down everything you eat in a day and using food labels or online nutrition databases - such as the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Nutrient Database - to determine your total calorie and carb intake. Or, try an online nutrition tracker, such as the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Super Tracker, to keep track of your intake.

Macronutrient Needs

The composition of your diet does affect satiety. For example, protein boosts satiation more than carbs or fat, according to a 2008 review in the “American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.” However, the recommended dietary allowance, or RDA, for carbs is 130 grams per day for adults, notes the Institute of Medicine. Therefore, aim to eat approximately 130 grams of carbs daily while dieting. Aim to get all of your carbs from healthy sources such as vegetables, fruits and whole grains -- the fiber in many of these foods can also help you feel full. Consume plenty of protein-rich foods - such as egg whites, lean meats, skinless poultry, seafood, low-fat dairy foods or soy products.

Meal Plans

Since counting calories and carbs is often tedious, using a meal plan is a viable alternative when trying to lose weight. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010 provides sample meal plans at different calorie allotments - including 1,200-, 1,400- and 1,600-calorie plans. For example, if you're following 1,200-calorie weight-loss meal plan, your daily food allotment is 4 ounces of grains, 1.5 cups of vegetables, 1 cup of fruit, 2.5 cups of dairy foods, 3 ounces of protein-rich foods and 4 teaspoons of healthy fats per day.

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