Why you shouldn't cut ALL carbs from your diet – just the low-quality ones

You don't need a low-carb diet to stay healthy and lose weight, just a balanced approach to nutrition

High-quality carbohydrates laid out on a table
(Image credit: Getty Images)

For decades, diet books, TV shows, and some high-profile names have called for you to cut carbohydrates from your diet. This idea that carbohydrates, commonly known as carbs, are bad is pervasive and significantly impacts how many people view food. 

But, the truth is far more complex than many of these weight loss diets would have you believe. If you want to shed excess pounds, it takes some of the best exercises for weight loss and a more balanced approach to nutrition. 

In a recent article published in Advances in Nutrition, the authors argue that there should be a standardized way to measure the quality of the carbohydrate and make it accessible on the food's packaging for you to make informed decisions. 

According to Rebekah Schulz, one of the authors, "terms like 'good carbs' and 'bad carbs' have been inconsistently assigned to a plethora of foods based on overly simplistic and narrowly focused measures, like glycemic index (GI) or fiber content." 

She goes on to note that "while GI may be a useful index in isolation, it is not representative of real-life dietary intake... nor does it account for a food's overall nutrient content or planetary impact."

Some potatoes in a bowl

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Carb-based foods are often assessed by whether they are 'good' or 'bad,' but the truth is that foods can't be categorized in that way. You should eat a range of nutrients, vitamins, and food types to make up a balanced, healthy diet. 

For instance, there are multiple forms of carbohydrate, including starch, sugar, and fiber, and each food has a combination of all three. Likewise, all foods have a mix of carbohydrates, fat, and protein. Carbs are our body's primary source of energy, so they are essential to our well-being.

The essay suggests that a standardized carb-quality assessment could consider the whole grain, fiber, added-sugar content, carb-fiber and sugar-fiber nutritional ratios, protein quality, degree of processing, and the environmental impact of the food. 

Unfortunately, there's not currently an easy way to judge a single product in that way, so it's worth planning your food based on specific types of carbohydrates that are generally considered high-quality, healthy carbs. Learning how to eat healthily means finding a balance between food groups, including carbohydrates. 

How to tell which carbs are "low quality"


(Image credit: Dennis Klein/Unsplash)

There are two forms of carbohydrates; simple and complex. Simple carbs are often processed and largely sugar-based, whether naturally occurring or added during production. These offer short-term energy boosts as the sugars are quickly and easily digested.

On the other hand, complex carbs are generally best for slow-release energy and contain more vitamins and other nutrients, including fiber. You can find this type of carbohydrate in whole grains, which have been shown to improve your health and lower cholesterol, vegetables, and legumes. 

Similarly, potatoes can actually be good for you, particularly if you prepare them in specific ways. Some high-carb foods can be part of a balanced diet, especially if you use one of the best air fryers to reduce the amount of oil and fat needed during cooking. 

Importantly, simple carbs can be found in many fruits, nuts, and dairy products, foods that are generally considered good for our health. However, you can also see simple carbs in many processed foods, including cakes, fast food, high-sugar snacks, and baked goods. These are often referred to as low-quality carbs, as they carry very little nutritional value. 

If in doubt, check the label. Is it high in sugar, high in saturated fat, pre-packaged, processed and low on nutrition? Better swerve it for something a bit more natural.  

James Frew
Fitness Editor

James is a London-based journalist and Fitness Editor at Fit&Well. He has over five years experience in fitness tech, including time spent as the Buyer’s Guide Editor and Staff Writer at technology publication MakeUseOf. In 2014 he was diagnosed with a chronic health condition, which spurred his interest in health, fitness, and lifestyle management.

In the years since, he has become a devoted meditator, experimented with workout styles and exercises, and used various gadgets to monitor his health. In recent times, James has been absorbed by the intersection between mental health, fitness, sustainability, and environmentalism. When not concerning himself with health and technology, James can be found excitedly checking out each week’s New Music Friday releases.