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How Many Carbohydrates Can You Eat and Still Be Low Carb?

Posted Apr 18 2013 2:43pm

The masses within the low-carb community tend to stick to about 20 to 35 net carbohydrates per day. The current perspective on Ketosis is that it takes 50 grams or less for most people to maintain that metabolic state. You’d think that asking, “How many carbohydrates can you eat and still be low carb?” would be rather silly. Wouldn’t the obvious answer be less than 50 carbohydrates per day?

chicken breast stuffed with cream cheese and wrapped in baconIs Low Carb Only 50 Grams Per Day or Less?
Well, maybe…but maybe not.

Like almost anything, it all depends on which low-carb expert you ask, and how much weight you place on their theory and belief. It wasn’t very long ago that the same people who are currently trying to talk us into converting to a low protein, low carb, high-fat lifestyle (for our own good, of course) were preaching something very different.

Gluten Exposure Has Resulted in Weight Gain 

Understanding where the line is between a low-carb diet and something else is particularly important to me because I’ve recently found myself in the unwelcomed position of having gained back some of my weight due to a heavy gluten exposure I wasn’t aware of. I knew I was sick. In fact, my husband and I have been sick since Christmas. It felt like I was being glutened on an almost daily basis, but there didn’t seem to be anything out of place.

Still…my blood glucose levels were high. My weight was climbing – all signs of gluten exposure – as well as the gastrointestinal problems, but I couldn’t figure out where the gluten was coming from. I was quite worried because I’d returned dairy and corn back to my diet and was doing okay with them until this strange sickness struck. I didn’t want to live without dairy again. Although I’d recovered in January from the flu aspect of what was going on, the gluten-like symptoms never went away and just kept getting worse.

Finding the Gluten

Part of the problem has turned out to be my husband’s beef jerky that he takes in his lunch. He fell at work a few months ago and shattered a tendon in his left thumb, so I’d been cutting up his Teriyaki jerky for him. Normally, the jerky comes into the house factory sealed and leaves in his lunch the same way. Although it isn’t gluten free, I’ve never gotten glutened by it.

After I realized that the jerky had contaminated my serrated knifes, cutting board, and hands, and I stopped using those knifes and bought a new board, I was still sick. Although it has taken me a long time to clue into the fact that my problem was gluten, once I came to that realization, it didn’t take long to find the culprit.

Turned out to be the beef and chicken broth I was using. I have often heard people talk about becoming more lax in buying gluten-free food as time goes on, and that many celiacs have the type of experience I’ve just went through, but I didn’t understand what they were talking about until now. Apparently, I fell into the same trap myself. I forgot to check on the brand of broth I was using, to make sure it was gluten free.

Where Do I Go From Here?

I threw out everything in my kitchen that had been contaminated – everything plastic, my non-metal utensils, and my knives, of course – and started fresh, but now I need to do something about my weight.

  • My knee is acting up.
  • My neuropathy is back.
  • My vertigo has been worse for quite some time now.
  • My lipid test results in December were bad,
  • And my overall metabolism has tanked.

It’s taken me weeks to figure out that all of that might be gluten related. I’m not a stranger to the idea that gluten causes weight gain , but only recently learned how. Apparently, when the immune system gets confused and starts attacking your small intestine, it accidentally destroys the villi which is how your body absorbs the nutrients you eat. Since you have blunted, short, or no villi (depending on the degree of damage), your body goes into starvation mode. When that happens, your body has two choices
  1. It can let everything you eat pass right through you, or
  2. It can drastically slow down your metabolism, so it can store a lot of what you eat as fat.

Currently, my blood glucose levels are excellent, which means that I’ve found all of the gluten sources that were messing with me. But my metabolism is very slow. How slow, I don’t know. The last time I tested my metabolism, it was at 10 calories per pound, but I don’t know if it’s dropped lower than that now, or not. In addition, I have a tendency to go into gluconeogenesis whenever I restrict my carbs too low.

At 20 net carbs per day, my blood glucose levels go up to diabetic levels. The last time I did a clean Atkins Induction , that happened in as little as 10 days. Low-carb, as the low-carb community currently defines it, also causes me to have daily vertigo attacks, which I just don’t want to go through anymore. So it looks like I’m back to experimenting on myself again.

Leaning Toward the Old Weight Watcher’s Exchange Program

The definition for a low-carb diet varies a little bit from source to source, but it’s nowhere near the extreme levels of restriction that the low-carb community has always preached it is. In fact, even popular researchers who believe in low-carb diets call anything less than 30 carbs per day a “very” low-carb diet,” not a standard low-carb diet. I was very surprised by that.

I’ve known that I’ve needed to do something about my weight for several weeks now, but wasn’t exactly sure what I wanted to try next. I had good results doing the Old Weight Watcher’s Exchange Program when I was younger, which is what I’ve been talking about at my “After Low Carb Blog” lately, but I stalled at around 160 pounds on Weight Watcher’s, exactly at the same place where I stalled in my low-carb journey.

Today, I know that the symptoms I suffered back then was tanked Leptin levels, but I didn’t know that then. Instead of moving to a maintenance level of calories, which is what I should have done, I quit dieting all together.

Ever since my Nutritional Ketosis fiasco , I’ve been leaning towards doing the old Weight Watcher’s program again, rather than a strict low carb diet. But, I haven’t felt well enough to take on that type of commitment. I did join Weight Watcher’s Online, a few months ago, but I didn’t last more than a month there because I couldn’t see the advantage in counting Points. I found it quite a hassle, and quite frankly, not worth the money they were charging for what you got. My review of that experience can be found here .

However, with my weight having risen lately to a little less than 195 pounds now, sick or not, I can’t wait much longer. I have to do something fairly soon.

What I’m interested in is a good, solid nutritional program, so with that in mind, I did a little research over the past week about carbohydrate levels that still qualify as a low-carb diet. Not that it matters, since I’ve never been one to follow protocol anyway, but I was curious.

How many carbohydrates can I eat and still be able to call what I’m doing a low-carb diet?

Where’s the Line that Divides a Low-Carb Diet from Something Else?

The American Diabetes Association in a position statement they made in January of 2007, took a round-about way of disclosing that their definition of a low-carb diet was any carbohydrate level of less than 130 grams per day. Previous to that, the American Family Physician had published an article on low-carb diets in June of 2006. That article defined a low-carb diet as being 20 to 60 grams per day. That was far less than the ADA and more in line with what the low carb community preaches.

But more recently, the Nutrition and Metabolism Society in June of 2011 set a range that seemed to include all of these definitions: 30 to 130 grams per day. That range fell right in line with the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition article that Eric Westman, Richard Feinman, Mary Vernon, Jeff Volek, Stephen Phinney, and others participated in where they defined
  • a “very” low-carb diet as being 20 to 50 grams of carbohydrates per day, and
  • a low-carb diet as being to 50 to 150 grams per day

Interestingly, the Old Weight Watcher’s Exchange Program comes in at 119 carbs per day, plus whatever you decide to spend your 500 weekly calories on. I don’t know that I would want to start out that high, which is another reason I’ve hesitated just a bit, but with a few slight adjustments – a little more protein and fat, and a little less fruit – it may be a nice foundation from which to build. If nothing more, it would make a great backdoor approach for those who are having trouble sticking to a low carb diet.


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