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Too Much White Bread Giving You a Big Belly?

Eat More Fiber-Filled Foods Like Fruits, Vegetables, and Whole Grains
WebMD Health News

Aug. 4, 2004 -- A message to the estimated 40 million Americans currently trying to control their weight by counting carbs: It's not enough to do the math; you also need to consider vocabulary.

New research shows what many health experts have long said. It's not carbohydrates, per se, that lead to weight gain, but the type of carbs eaten. Their research shows that people who ate more refined and processed foods, such as white bread and white rice, had more belly fat.

Tufts University researchers find that middle-aged people can successfully avoid middle-aged spread by eating a high-carbohydrate diet -- as long as those carbs are fiber-rich, unprocessed foods such as fruit, vegetables, legumes, and unrefined bread.

"Now that everybody is talking about counting carbs, many people believe that carbohydrates are the enemy," says study researcher Katherine Tucker, PhD, of the school's Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging. "But the truth is very simple: It's the type of carbs you eat that makes a difference. You need to eat more whole foods and less refined foods."

Her study, in the August issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, builds on a previous trial by her same research team published last year comparing food patterns in 459 middle-aged adults over an average of two years. The patients kept detailed food diaries and their weight and waistlines were measured throughout the studies. Based on their food choices, they were categorized into any of six "eating patterns."

Belly Fat: A Reality Sandwich?

In the first study, people eating the greatest amount of white bread and other highly refined foods gained the most belly fat, while those eating the typical "meat-and-potatoes" American diet gained the most overall weight, but it was more evenly distributed around their body than just settling around the midsection.

The new study confirms those findings, but also stresses an even more important message. To not gain excess weight during the years, focus on a diet that's rich in unrefined carbs and fibers such as "whole" foods like fruit, vegetables, legumes, and low-fat dairy and nonwhite bread. In both studies, Tucker says most people following this eating plan -- also said to reduce the risk of cancer, heart disease, and other conditions -- typically gained no weight, or had such little weight gain that it was insignificant.

"That's important, because there is a tendency [in middle-aged people] to gain more weight as they age," Tucker tells WebMD.

But that wasn't the case with those eating roughly the same number of calories each day, but whose carbs included more refined, packaged, and processed foods, or starchy vegetables such as potatoes. Their waistlines expanded three times more (about a half inch per year) compared with the group that ate unrefined and less processed "whole" foods.

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