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Are Carbohydrates Fattening?

By Joseph McAllister

Just like any food, carbohydrates can be fattening if you eat too much. However, carbs are an important staple of your diet, because your body needs carbohydrates for energy. Instead of avoiding carbohydrates, focus on eating healthy carbs in the proper portion size.


Your body needs carbohydrates to make the fuel your cells use for energy. When you eat carbohydrates, your stomach and small intestines break them down into the simple sugar, glucose. Glucose is then absorbed from your small intestine into your bloodstream, where it travels to your cells. Once in your cells, your mitochondria -- one type of intracellular bodies -- convert the glucose into energy, which your body then uses to carry out all of its life functions.

Carbs and Fat

Your body can temporarily store extra glucose in your muscles and liver, so your cells can use it later, when they need it. However, if you eat too many carbohydrates, and your body cannot burn off all of the extra glucose, the glucose will then be stored as fat. You need to eat the same number or fewer calories than your body burns through exercise and other activities to prevent calories from carbs or other foods from turning into fat and weight gain. So, carbohydrates themselves aren't fattening, but too much of any food can lead to weight gain. Many processed foods are high in both carbs and calories.


You should get approximately 45 to 65 percent of your daily calories from carbohydrates. In addition, for every 1,000 calories you consume, you should get 14 g of fiber. If you are following a typical diet of 2,000 calories, between 900 and 1,300 calories should be from carbohydrates and you should get 28 g fiber. Sugar is also a carbohydrate that is added to some foods. Limit your added sugar intake to fewer than 100 calories daily if you are a women and 150 calories if you are a man.

Healthy Carbs

Starch, fiber and sugars are all types of carbs that occur naturally in foods. However, some foods, particularly processed foods, add sugar, which increases the calories and decreases the nutritional value. Focus on whole foods with little added sugar. Examples of foods with good carbs include whole-grain products, fruits, vegetables, milk and milk products. Fruits and vegetables do have naturally occurring sugars, but they are still high in fiber and other valuable nutrients.

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