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You watch your calories and work out when you can, but that hasn’t stopped a spare tire from rolling in around your waist. What gives? Even if you’re careful about portion sizes, when it comes to belly fat, what you eat may be just as important as how much. Seemingly harmless comfort foods like pasta, crackers, French bread and couscous could be the reason why your waistline is suddenly padded like a sanatorium wall, according to research from Tufts University.
The study, published by the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, shows that people who choose whole grains over refined ones have 10 percent less abdominal fat than those who eat several servings of white carbohydrates a day.
Carrying extra weight around your middle can be bad for you. Otherwise known as visceral fat, belly fat that surrounds the abdominal organs is considered more dangerous than subcutaneous fat, the stuff that lies just beneath the skin and is responsible for saddlebags and love handles. Belly bulge is linked to high blood pressure, unhealthy cholesterol levels and insulin resistance, all of which can increase the risk of diabetes and heart disease.
For the study, researchers examined the diets of 2,834 men and women between the ages of 32 and 83, then conducted body scans to determine participants’ body fat compositions. People who ate less than one serving of refined carbohydrates a day had 10 percent less belly fat than those who ate more than three daily servings. Eating three or more servings of unrefined grains every day, such as oatmeal or whole-wheat bread, was not associated with a greater amount of belly fat. The connection between abdominal fat and refined carbs remained, even after accounting for other habits, like smoking, drinking, eating fruits and vegetables, exercise and fat intake. The researchers also found that eating plenty of whole grains alongside of refined carbohydrates did not reduce the amount of belly fat. Meaning, you can’t just add whole grains to your diet; you have to get rid of the refined ones if you want to keep your tummy trim.
I like to think that I don’t eat a lot of refined grains. After all, there’s barely an ounce of rice, pasta or baked goods to be found in my house. But when I go out to eat, it’s a different story. I never say no to the bread basket and I order turkey burgers on fluffy white buns with abandon. I’m always at my friend’s house for dinner, where I indiscriminately gobble up rice pilaf, couscous or pasta. If all it takes is a half-cup to consume one serving, I’m sure I take in a few. Then there’s my sushi habit. I eat close to five rolls a week -- each one packing a serving of white rice. And don’t even make me admit to all of the sugar I dump into my coffee every morning. So even though I consider myself saintly, upon closer inspection, I can see that I probably average a few servings of refined carbs a day. And here I was blaming my new-found belly on getting older. Having this new research under my belt is so much better, because that means a flat stomach is still within my control. All I need to decide now is which is worth more to me: Breadsticks or abs.
Are there refined carbs you could cut from your diet? Chime in below!