What is the best way to lose weight? Dieters often get confused about whether they should count calories or carbs to slim down. Much of confusion is the result of the calories vs. sugar debate. Does calorie count matter more or should you reduce sugary carbs for weight loss? And what about fat? To get the answer, it’s important to sort through the nutrition facts.
Counting Calories or Carbs to Lose Weight
To lose weight, you must create a calorie deficit.1 That means you need to burn more calories than you consume. In very simple terms, it means that most of us need to eat less and move more. We can burn more calories through exercise or increased daily activity (for example, by boosting your step count) You can also create a deficit if you consume fewer calories each day. So calories do count.
But your intake of fat, sugar, and carbohydrates can affect the total number of calories you consume each day. That means you should pay attention to those numbers as well.Use a Simple Weight Maintenance or Weight Loss Calculator for Calories
How Each Affects Your Diet
Here is a brief explanation of how consuming calories in the form of fat, sugar, and carbohydrates can affect your total caloric intake:
A single gram of fat provides nine calories of energy. A single gram of carbohydrate or protein only provides four calories. If you eat foods high in fat, your total caloric intake can increase quickly because the calorie cost is so high. But eating a reasonable amount of healthy fat can be smart for your diet.
Fat helps you to feel full and satiated. If you eat a small amount of fatty food, you may feel satisfied sooner and eat less overall. For that reason, foods that contain healthy fats like certain types of fish, nuts or avocado can be a smart addition to your weight loss diet.2
Sugar itself isn’t necessarily bad for you. But many of us consume way too much sugar without even knowing it. Sugar is added to many of the processed foods we eat. Foods like ketchup, salsa or canned soups may contain added sugar even though they aren’t sweet. And many of the drinks we consume are loaded with sugar. Increased sugar consumption has been linked to serious health consequences such as an increased risk for type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, and obesity.
Aside from the health consequences of consuming too much added sugar, there are diet drawbacks as well. Many experts feel that the more sugar we eat, the more sugar we crave.4 So if you can reduce your sugar intake, you may be able to reduce your total caloric intake and lose weight.
At four calories per gram, carbohydrates are a good source of energy for your body. But overeating refined carbohydrates like white rice and white bread is very easy to do and that habit can drive your calorie count through the roof. In addition, when you eat low nutrient carbs, those items displace healthier foods—including a protein that can help you feel full and eat less. If you choose to count carbohydrates to lose weight, make sure that the carbs you keep in your diet are full of important vitamins and minerals like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
To create a calorie deficit and lose weight, most people find it easiest to count calories. The calorie count is easy to find for most foods and easy to tally with a weight loss app or tracker. Also, your calorie count is what matters in the end if you want to lose weight.
However, as you count calories, it is helpful to look at your balance of carbohydrates, protein, and fat. If you keep your carb intake within recommended guidelines (50-65% of your total calorie intake1 ) that leaves enough room to eat a healthy amount of protein and fat. By consuming a healthy, balanced diet, you are more likely to provide your body with the fuel it needs to stay active.