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Healthy Weight Center

Should I Reduce My Fat or Carb Intake?

03/11/2009

Question:

I am currently doing daily exercise which burns about 3500 calories per week. For my diet should I: 1. reduce fat intake? -or- 2. reduce carbohydrate intake? My understanding is that a high carbohydrate diet will produce fat in the body and that foods low in fat are usually higher in carbohydrates.

Answer:

Thanks for your question. Congratulations on sticking to such a rigorous exercise regimen. In order to lose one pound of weight per week (which is the recommended weight loss), a person must either consume 3500 calories less per week (500 calories less daily), or burn off 3500 calories per week. The best method would be a combination of both (decreased calorie intake and calorie burning exercise). Exercise builds and tones muscle, which burns more calories than fat tissue. As for which to decrease; fat or carbohydrate, decreasing fat in your diet is more effective in weight loss. Fat has 9 calories per gram, where protein and carbohydrate have only 4 calories per gram. When you eat fat, it is immediately stored as fat. When you eat carbohydrate, your body uses it for energy, or stores what it doesn't need as glycogen. Glycogen is stored in the liver and muscle tissues and is used when the body is in a state of fasting (such as during sleep). When glycogen stores are full, carbohydrate will then be stored as fat. It is important to understand that ANY calories eaten in excess from ANY source (carbohydrate, fat, protein or alcohol) will be changed to fat if not used for energy in the body. Because fat has more calories per gram, and is immediately stored as fat, it is harder to lose weight with a high fat diet. Currently there are several fat free products on the market. The reason Americans aren't losing weight with them is that they are NOT calorie free. When it comes to weight loss, calories DO count. Many of the fat free products out today are carbohydrate (crackers, bread, cookies, etc.). There are 2 types of carbohydrates; simple and complex. Simple carbohydrates are made up of sugar that is easily absorbed and digested, and does not have much nutritional value. Foods like soda, candy, donuts, cake, etc., have a lot of simple sugar. Fruit and fruit juice also have simple sugar, however fruit contains fiber and vitamins, where Coca Cola does not. Complex carbohydrates also provide the body with "sugar" for energy, but they also contain vitamins, minerals and fiber. These types of carbohydrates do not get absorbed into the blood stream as quickly (therefore maintaining more balanced blood sugar). When blood sugar drops, your body will respond by feeling hungry. Complex carbohydrates include whole grain breads and cereals, pasta, rice and dried beans. Carbohydrates high in fiber also help you feel fuller longer because fiber attracts water and swells in the digestive system. If you feel full, you will most likely eat less (leading to weight loss). High fiber foods (fruits, vegetables, and whole grains) also aid in elimination and therefore weight loss. Be sure to drink plenty of water to maintain adequate hydration during exercise, aid in digestion, absorption, transport and elimination of foods. You may wish to consult a Registered Dietitian to assist your further with your weight loss program. Check out the websites below for more information on weight reduction. Good luck!

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Response by:

Lisa Cicciarello Andrews, MEd, RD, LD Lisa Cicciarello Andrews, MEd, RD, LD
Adjunct Faculty
University of Cincinnati