Does this food group really make you fat? Here’s everything you need to know

Carbohydrates are one of the most confusing aspects of nutrition. I say this as a dietician who has helped countless clients lose weight. And I understand the confusion.

First you hear that you should eat fewer carbohydrates (or none at all!) and then you hear that you should eat more. On top of the mixed messaging, maybe you’ve even heard that you don’t actually eat carbohydrates, but you eat the foods that contain carbohydrates.

I’ll often hear from clients that the last time they “cut out all carbohydrates,” they lost weight, but then they got sick of eating spinach, broccoli, and strawberries. Here’s the thing: spinach, broccoli, and strawberries all contain carbohydrates!

The most common carbohydrate question I get from readers, clients, Uber drivers, etc., is this: “Should I stop eating [insert random carb-containing food]?” The answer is complex. So I created what I call The Hierarchy of Carbohydrates in my new Men’s Health book The MetaShred Dietto give readers, clients, and Uber drivers an easy-to-use cheat sheet. This chart shows that not all carbs are created equal.

A few key things you should take away from The Hierarchy of Carbohydrates.

A little less confusing, right? So here’s how to use The Hierarchy of Carbohydrates. And for a more detailed 28-day eating plan designed to help you lost fat fast, check out The MetaShred Diet from Men’s Health.

Step 1: For one day, write down everything that you eat. Tip: Do this as the day progresses, not at the end of the day. (You’ll be much less accurate if you wait until the end.)

Step 2: Go through your food log and identify the carbs you are eating and where they sit in the hierarchy. This is as simple as writing the number in the hierarchy next to the food (e.g. broccoli [6], bagel [2], etc.)

Step 3: Look for foods labeled 1 and 2. What can you replace them with?

Step 4: Make those replacements over the next 2 weeks. Don’t do anything else until you are consistently able to do so.

Step 5: If you don’t have any foods labeled 1 or 2 then look at your list again to see if you are eating more 5 and 6 labeled foods than 3 and 4 labeled foods. If not, identify three ways that you can increase the amount of 5 and 6 labeled foods and decrease the number of 3 labeled foods. Also, don’t worry about eating less fruit. I’ve only had to tell one client over the years that they were eating too much fruit.

By moving through these five steps and putting The Hierarchy of Carbohydrates into action, you will make huge strides in smart carb control, which will help optimize your weight and improve your health—all with far less confusion.

Mike Roussell is Men’s Health’s Nutrition Know-It-All and the author of The MetaShred Dietfrom Men’s Health.