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Do Carbohydrates make you Fat? No, but Fat might

The most common misconception in the fitness and weight loss industry at present is the notion that carbohydrates are the cause of obesity and weight gain.

Speaking with clients on a daily basis has highlighted just how many people are of this belief. Interesting there is no evidence to support this case, and the dietician's association still recommends carbohydrate consumption as part of a balanced diet.

Examining the research on carbohydrate intake and obesity shows that carbohydrates are not the cause of weight gain.

Epidemiology and Cohort studies are where a participants diet, exercise and lifestyle factors are studied to find correlations with a particular event. In these studies an individual’s long term carbohydrates intake is not linked with weight gain (BMI) or fat mass. In many cases the opposite holds true and carbohydrates are found to be correlated with weight loss. The link between carbohydrate consumption and weight loss is possibly due higher fibre intakes being found in carbohydrate rich foods and to the reduced fat intake that occurs in response to increasing carbohydrates rich foods. Conclusion from these studies can't always be taken as gospel due to possible errors in dietary reporting, they do clearly refute a direct link between carbohydrate intake and weight gain.


The majority of Cohort or Longitudinal studies show higher carbohydrate intakes resulting in lower body fat levels (1,2) and that higher fat intakes result in higher body fat levels (1,2,3,4)



Do Carbohydrate cause Weight Gain

The connection between fat intake and weight gain is most likely due to the increase in energy consumed on higher fat diets. Studies show when higher percentages of calories are derived from fat there tends to be an overall larger intake in the kilojoules consumed

  • Avoid over-eating fatty foods. These foods are high in energy and have lower satiety
  • When choosing carbohydrates chose lower GI, full fibre or wholegrain versions. Limit Sugary foods
  • Read the nutritional label on packaged dinners, biscuits and bars. Generally these foods contain higher fat contents and energy levels then fresh foods
  • Prepare more of your own lunches and dinners. Takeaway food and convenience foods tend to be higher in fat

Not all Carbohydrates are Equal

Some of the inconsistencies in connecting carbohydrate intake and weight loss could be due to the differences in the type of Carbohydrates ingested. Eating lower Glycaemic Index carbohydrates is important for heatlh and may provide weight loss benefits. 

Added Sugar or table sugar is also a carbohydrate. High intakes of carbohydrates in the form of added sugar causes negetative changes which increase the risk of developing heart disease, and diabetes 

  1. Dreon, Darlene M., et al. "Dietary fat: carbohydrate ratio and obesity in middle-aged men." The American journal of clinical nutrition 47.6 (1988): 995-1000.
  2. Miller, Wayne C., et al. "Diet composition, energy intake, and exercise in relation to body fat in men and women." The American journal of clinical nutrition 52.3 (1990): 426-430.
  3. Klesges, Robert C., et al. "A longitudinal analysis of the impact of dietary intake and physical activity on weight change in adults." The American journal of clinical nutrition 55.4 (1992): 818-822.
  4. Sherwood, N. E., et al. "Predictors of weight gain in the Pound of Prevention study." International journal of obesity and related metabolic disorders: journal of the International Association for the Study of Obesity 24.4 (2000): 395.
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