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Do Starchy Carbohydrates Make You Fat?

In this era of trendy low-carb and no-carb diets, this may be the best thing you've heard in a while: carbohydrates will not make you fat! Consistently overeating calories will make you fat—and those calories may come from protein, fat, and/or carbohydrate. Always remember that appropriate amounts of high-quality carbohydrates will prolong your energy and improve your health.

Why all the confusion? For starters, some people confuse weight gain from fat with weight gain from carbohydrates. One gram of fat has more than double the amount of calories as one gram of carbohydrate. What some people don't realize is that fat usually accompanies carbohydrates at a meal. For instance, people remember that they had pasta for dinner but forget that the pasta was swimming in oil, butter, cheese, or Alfredo sauce. Clearly, the culprit for weight gain was the fat (butter, oil, and so on), not the carbohydrate (pasta).

Another example is many a New Yorker's favorite staple—the bagel. Alone, a bagel is a straightforward, complex carbohydrate. Add all that butter or cream cheese, and you'll wind up with a lot more calories and fat than you bargained for. The next time you question whether pasta or other carbs make you fat, reevaluate. It's likely the fat that is making you fat.

Expand your grain vocabulary:

  • Quinoa ( pronounced “keen-wah”). A native South American grain, quinoa is high in protein, calcium, and iron and good in puddings, soup, and stir-fry.
  • Barley. Good in soups, stews, side dishes, puddings, and cereals, barley is found in grocery stores and available as “pot” or “scotch barley.”
  • Millet. Good as a side dish or stuffing for poultry and high in phosphorus and B-vitamins, millet is available in health food stores.
  • Wild rice. High in protein and a good source of B-vitamins, this pseudograin is really a grass seed.
  • Amaranth. High in protein, iron, and calcium, amaranth is from South America and available in health food stores and some upscale grocery stores. It serves as a good side dish or cereal.
  • Wheat berries. Found in most grocery stores and health food stores, wheat berries serve as a good high-fiber cereal or substitute for rice.

On the other hand, Americans tend to overeat everything, and we love the starchy carbs! Do you ever eat a bagel for breakfast, sandwich on a hero roll for lunch, jumbo bag of pretzels for a snack, large bowl of pasta with a few slices of bread for dinner, and a granola bar before bed? Although low in fat, your diet is heavy in carbohydrate calories. And unless you're incredibly active, there is a great chance you'll gain weight because you've taken in more calories than your body can efficiently burn.

What's more, numerous studies have confirmed that portions have dramatically increased over the years, and it's no surprise that muffins, bagels, and pasta entrees are high on the list. A deli bagel can weigh in at 5 ounces—that's the equivalent of 5 slices of bread or 400 calories. A typical pasta entree is 5 to 6 servings (based on ½ cup standard serving size), and provides 600 calories before you even consider the sauce.

Remember, to maintain an ideal weight, you need that balance of “calories in, calories out.” It doesn't matter if those extra calories come from carbohydrates, protein, or fat: Excessive calories will be stored by your body as fat. When it comes to carbohydrates, choose wisely and eat appropriate portions.


Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Total Nutrition © 2005 by Joy Bauer. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

To order this book visit the Idiot's Guide web site or call 1-800-253-6476.


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