Carbohydrates have a bad reputation. The enduring popularity of low carb diets such as the Paleo, Atkins and South Beach diets have cemented the belief that carbohydrates are the enemy of fat loss.

Ketogenic or high fat/low carb diets have been around since the 1920s. When we drastically cut the amount of carbohydrates in our diets, we deprive our bodies of their preferred energy source, forcing them to turn to fat stores for fuel. This can lead to rapid weight loss.

Ketogenic diets have been linked to a decrease in blood pressure, lowered blood sugar and feeling fuller for longer. However, the side effects include nausea, bad breath, irritability, constipation, dehydration, dizziness and difficulty concentrating. No wonder ketogenic diets are notoriously difficult to stick to.

Food should fuel not rule our lives. A diet that is depleting and debilitating is not the way forward. In any case, low carb diets do not work in the long term. Everyone I know who has lost weight on an Atkins-style diet has gained it back without exception.

And that’s not the only problem with low carb diets. Weight training is a key component of improving our bodies’ muscle to fat ratio and carbohydrates are the essential energy source for intense training. Just as protein is needed for muscle growth and repair, carbohydrate (stored as glycogen) is needed to power you through your workouts. If you’re planning a low carb diet, expect shakiness, brain fog and a dramatic drop in performance at your next heavy lifting session.

The problem does not lie with the calorie content of carbohydrate. Per gram carbohydrate contains only 4 calories, making it the least calorie-dense macronutrient alongside protein (fat contains 9 calories per gram, alcohol is 7 calories per gram.)

Nor does the problem necessarily lie with the amount of carbohydrate we are eating. The government’s healthy eating advice, illustrated by the Eatwell Guide, recommends one third of our diets are made of starchy foods such as potatoes, bread and rice and another third from fruit and vegetables.

Fitness experts advocate a slightly lower carbohydrate and higher protein intake to support fat loss and muscle gain, but suggest around 50% of our food consumption comes from carbohydrates. A reduced carbohydrate intake will kickstart fat loss, but anything lower than 40% is unhealthy and unsustainable.

So, if the problem does not lie with the basic calorie content or amount of carbohydrate we are eating, where are we going wrong?

The problem lies with the TYPES of carbohydrates we are eating.

We need more natural carbohydrates and less processed. That is, more carbohydrates that grow in the ground or fall off a tree and less man-made junk containing white sugar and white flour.

Processed carbohydrates such as pastries, cakes, white bread, crisps, pizza and biscuits have a lot to answer for. Not only is this high calorie, nutrient-light fodder a key driver of obesity, processed carbohydrates also suppress our immune systems, deplete our bodies of important minerals, increase insulin and promote diabetes. If you make only one change to your diet, I would urge you to cut the amount of processed carbohydrate you consume and see what a difference it makes to your health and body fat levels.

Instead replace these nasties with meals containing fibrous carbs (i.e. leafy greens and colourful veg), starchy carbs (i.e. sweet potatoes, oats, brown rice, beans and pulses) and lean proteins. A portion of each of these nutritional powerhouses at every meal should mean you get a healthy combo of macronutrients without too much number juggling. And if you can’t resist bread and pasta, opt for wholegrain varieties instead of their flabby white counterparts.

Fat loss is never about resorting to extremes. Cutting an entire food group from our diets is detrimental to health and comes with unpleasant consequences. Ketogenic diets may not even fast-track weight loss as not all body types are suited to them. We could all do with a little more protein and fibre in our diets and we’d make plenty of room for these if we cut out sugary snacks. A balanced diet is about eating a variety of foods from the major food groups and that includes carbohydrates from natural sources.