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New Study Sparks Old Debate: Do Carbs Cause Fat?

Ryan | July 13th, 2012

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A debate recently took place on the editorial pages of the NY Times over the impact of obesity on U.S. eating habits, the effectiveness of low-carb diets, and understanding what are bad carbs when it comes to losing weight. Different writers offer contrasting opinions as to the main cause of the current epidemic of obesity in the U.S.: Proposed culprits range from an excess of carbohydrates and starches, to a deficit of “complex” carbs, to lack of exercise.

Each author attempts to answer the question: Do carbs make you fat?

Researchers study impact of obesity on calorie-burning metabolism

The op-ed letters to the NY Times were written in response to an article by Gary Taubes, reporting on a comparative study of different diets recently published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Taubes distills the study’s findings by concluding that “carbohydrates are fattening, and obesity is a fat-storage defect.” He goes on to say that the key to successful weight management is “the quantity and quality of carbohydrates [in the diet] and their effect on insulin.”

Randy Blaun, former Web content director at Atkins Nutritionals, reinforces Taubes’ conclusion about the link between carbs and fat retention. He suggests that humans have inherited their metabolisms from their hunter-gatherer ancestors, who rarely consumed carbohydrates, but instead sustained themselves on meats, berries, nuts, and seeds.

Another writer suggests that technological advances actually work against healthy lifestyles by making people sedentary and limiting even the most basic physical activities. Meanwhile, W. Jackson Davis, professor of biology at the University of California, cautions that carbs should not be universally avoided. He notes that complex carbs from beans and grains are exclusive sources for muscle glycogen, which “fuels rapid energy expenditure” necessary for activities such as running and weight lifting.

Do carbs make you fat? Choosing carbs wisely key to diabetes diet

Taubes points out that the more carbs a person consumes, the higher their blood glucose levels. This causes the body to produce an increased amount of insulin. For the average person, this chain of biological events will lead to increased fat storage and make it difficult to meet their weight loss goals. But for people with type 2 diabetes, who already struggle to keep their blood sugar in check, consuming an excess of carbs can have more serious health implications.

The best diabetes diet plan, however, does not cut carbohydrates out completely. Any extremely imbalanced intake of the major food elements (fat, protein, carbs) can lead to sharp spikes and drops in blood glucose levels. Instead, people following healthy eating habits on a diabetes diet are instructed to maintain a daily nutritional balance, usually according to the following guidelines:

  • 15% protein
  • 30% fat
  • 55% carbohydrates

The impact of obesity statistics on pharmaceutical research was made evident recently, with the FDA approving the weight loss pill Belviq for the U.S. market in June 2010, and preparing to make a ruling on another weight loss drug, Onexa, in July. Both prescription medications are appetite suppressants, designed to give users a sensation of fullness after eating less than they normally would.

These drugs contribute to weight loss and weight management by helping people consume fewer total calories. While calorie reduction certainly contributes to weight less and increased overall health, the medical community is increasingly realizing that the kind of calories consumed are the most important, and that drugs like Belviq will play only a complimentary role in a long-term weight loss regimen.

Dr. Michael Kaplan, founder and chief medical officer of The Center for Medical Weight Loss, echoes this sentiment when he says that Belviq will serve as “another tool in the toolbox” of physicians looking “to help obese patients lose and keep off weight.”

For patients concerned about the negative impact of obesity of their health and lifestyle, sticking to a diet can sometimes seem impossible. The weight loss doctors at The Center for Medical Weight Loss have helped thousands meet their weight loss goals by treating them with personalized, doctor-supervised diet and exercise programs.

The Center for Medical Weight Loss operates 450 locations across the country. To see of there is one near you, use the zip code search box above. Introductory bonus offers are available at select centers.