What Makes You Fat: Carbs or Calories?

For the most part, weight gain is a matter of calories, not strictly carbs. And despite the numerous fad diets that recommend restricting entire food groups, MayoClinic.com notes that people generally lose weight on any type of reduced-calorie eating plan. That said, certain carbohydrates are linked to higher levels of body fat, and while they may not be fully responsible for weight gain, you could stay slimmer by avoiding these foods.

Calories and Fat

The only sure-fire way to prevent weight gain is to burn at least as many calories as you eat. The average woman burns about 2,000 calories per day through bodily functions and physical activity, while the average man burns about 2,500 calories per day, according to the University of Minnesota Medical Center. When you consume more calories than you burn, your body stores the extra calories as fat, reserving the energy for later use. Eating an extra 3,500 calories creates about 1 pound of body fat.

Refined Carbs and Fat

Your body rapidly digests refined carbs from white bread, white rice and table sugar, leading to a spike in blood glucose. Glucose levels quickly crash, however, creating cravings for more carbs and consequently more calories. Not only are refined carbs unsatisfying in the long term, but they may also contribute to visceral fat that sits beneath your abdominal muscles. A study published in “The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition” in 2010 found that participants who consumed refined grains rather than whole grains had higher visceral fat levels.

Unrefined Carbs and Fat

Unrefined carbohydrate sources such as whole wheat bread, oatmeal, beans and fresh fruits and vegetables may actually help prevent weight gain. These foods are typically high in fiber, which slows the absorption of sugar into the bloodstream to prevent the spike-and-crash phenomenon. Although fiber provides no calories because your body can’t digest it, it adds volume to food to help you feel full. It also slows the digestive process so that food remains in your stomach longer, making you less likely to feel hungry after eating.

Carb Guidelines

Your body needs carbs for energy and vital organ function, and the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend getting 45 to 65 percent of your total calories from carbohydrates. On a 2,000-calorie diet, that amounts to between 225 and 325 grams of carbs each day. At least half of your grains should come from unrefined sources, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Talk to your doctor before making major changes to your diet or starting a weight loss plan.

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