Low Carb? Good Carbs vs Bad Carbs Explained

Tip #3: Removing Bad Carbs From Your Diet

Is Low Carb the Right Way to Go?

Some carbs are good, some are bad, some are just plain evil when it comes to weight loss.  America’s food companies take advantage of people’s lack of knowledge with products like: diet soda, bean pasta, and “low carb” bread.  Are these reengineered carbs goods for weight loss?

Paul explains how to analyze whether a carb is good, careful, or bad with 7 simple rules.

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High Glycemic Carbs Alexandria VA

Good Carbs, Careful Carbs,1 and Bad Carbs.2  A carbohydrate is just carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen bound together to form a molecule.  The simplest carbohydrate is glucose C6, H12, O6.   It’s from this chemical breakdown that we get the abbreviation CHO for carbohydrate.  Humans (and most creatures) break-down glucose into Adenosine Tri-Phosphate (ATP) to generate energy.  Glucose can also be assembled into larger molecules called sugars through a process called dehydration synthesis.  Three very common forms of sugar come from just two molecules of glucose.  These are fructose (fruit sugar), sucrose (cane sugar), and lactose (milk sugar).  Continue combining small sugars into larger ones and you get complex carbohydrates.

Debunking the Low Carb Diet

Carbs can be good, medium, or bad for weight loss.  So the idea that you need to go low carb to lose weight is without merit.  This diet observation came from the understanding that some carbs should be avoided, and people tend to eat too many careful carbs at one time.  When I teach nutrition, I explain this concept to my clients.  Careful carbs (like potatoes and beans) aren’t bad for you.  They contain lots of essential nutrients.  But eat too much of them at once, and the glycemic load (a measurement of the body’s response to all the carbs consumed in the meal) goes to high.  For most careful carbs (legumes, grains, and roots), serving size tends to be between 2 TBL and 8 TBL.  30-40 grams of carbs.

1. Is a carb is good, careful, or bad for weight loss:

“Carbs” are foods that contain a large number of relative calories that are carbohydrates.  Foods that are carbs include: watermelon, bread, oatmeal, pasta, rice, etc.  Foods like beans and yogurt can also be considered carbs (although they are also legumes and dairy too.)  Are these carbs good for weight loss?  Well that depends on the following:

  • Since foods can contain (and often do) multiple types of sugars, we look at the average complexity of the constituent sugars.  Is the average complexity high or low?
  • Do the foods contain mechanical barriers to absorbing the sugar (e.g. slowing it down).  Soluble Fiber and Insoluble Fiber help slow down the body’s ability to break down sugar.  Slower is better.
  • Does the food contain a lot of micronutrients per calorie (this is called the Aggregate Nutrition Density Index ANDI).  Since carbs are human’s major source of micronutrients (e.g. vitamins and minerals), making the sure the carbs you eat contain a lot of micronutrients is important.  Foods high in carbs and low in micronutrients are called “empty calorie” foods.
  • Does the food contain refined, added, or manmade carbs?  Most of these are bad for weight loss (e.g. corn syrup, molasses, etc.)

2. Consider your body type:

  • If you are an ectomorph (naturally skinny), then have as much as good and careful carbs are you like, and limit bad carbs.
  • If you are a mesomorph (medium build), then have as much good carbs as you like, 3-4 careful carbs per day, and avoid your bad carbs.
  • If you are an endomorph (heavy build), then have as much good carbs as you like, 1-2 careful carbs per day, and avoid your bad carbs.

3. The Zone Ratio

There is maybe 8 or so viable macronutrient balancing formula.  Sand & Steel uses the zone ratio, which suggests balancing your macros in a 3:2:1 (Carbs:Protein:Fat) in terms of grams.  If you are eating 1600 calories, this would equate to 160 grams per day.  We have found that most people need a slightly different ratio, or that they can benefit from varying their carbs (known as carb cycling.)  But as a first step towards eating better, we almost always have people start with the Zone ratio, and improve from there.

4. Limit Refined Sugars

The world health organization (WHO) has found that people lose weight when they limit their sugars to 35 grams per day.  Our internal research has confirmed that 35 grams is a great number to work from with the following two caveats.  We don’t count whole fruit (except bananas and plantains) and we don’t count vegetables (except legumes, root vegetables, and corn).

5. Bad Sugars

Foods made with flour.  This includes “whole grain” flours.  The word whole grain came from the concept that people used to eat grain with the hull intact — e.g. it was the whole (entire) grain.  When you grind wheat (or other grains) into flour, the benefit of the hull (which slows down the absorption of the sugar is minimized.)

6. Hidden Sugars

Sugars in sauces and glazes are pure evil.   Your local restaurant loves to add them to foods to make them taste better.  Orange chicken anyone?

7. Added Sugars in Dairy

Foods like sweetened yogurt, chocolate milk, and ice cream are terrible for weight loss.  All dairy should be a considered a careful carb (because all dairy contains carbs in the form of lactose.)  If there is additional sugar added, then you should definitely avoid.

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Analysis of a High Glycemic Meal Plan


  1. Careful Carbs are carbs you can eat, but need to be careful about how much you eat at one time.
  2. Yes, bad is a strong word.  But there are few other words that can describe the impact that some carbs can have on weight loss better than evil.  The doughnut featured above is evil for weight loss.  I love doughnuts too, but if you want to lose weight… they must be avoided.  That said we use the word bad instead of evil, because evil suggests some malice in the food company’s intent.

About Coach Paul

Paul Bio PictureView my Bio | Email me  | Newsletter
BioMedical Engineering - Johns Hopkins University.
Juris Doctorate - Rutgers.
Yoga, M|WOD, CrossFit Level II, 3DMAPS, FMT, FMSII, YBT, RKC, TRX, PN.

Paul has trained over 3000 clients and more than a 100 personal trainers over his 10 years as a mobility and strength coach.  He emphasizes safety and corrective exercises in all programming (strength, weight loss, conditioning, etc.)  His practice focuses on improving flawed movement patterns to prevent injury and improve skeletal-muscular function.  Paul employs a balanced approach in training utilizing his training Yoga, CrossFit, Powerlifting, and Movement Courses to systematically strengthen weakened muscles and mobilize joints and muscle tissue.  Move Better ... Train Better.

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