We Found Out If Certain Foods Really Cause Weight Gain

Doughnut say it's so.
It's not as simple as it sounds.
It's not as simple as it sounds.

Honestly, with staying on top of regular exercise, eating a healthy diet and sleeping well, we have enough to keep busy. And then someone says that 'certain foods make you fat'. GAH.

But is this really true? Can certain foods encourage weight gain?

According to nutritionist Pip Reed, it's not that simple.

"In short, yes, but it's not as simple as it sounds," Reed told The Huffington Post Australia.

"The consumption of carbohydrates (sugar) causes our blood glucose levels to rise and, as a result, our pancreas releases the hormone insulin to help bring down your blood glucose levels and keep them within healthy ranges.

"When sugar is eaten in excess and causes significant fluctuations in blood glucose, your body, over time may limit its ability to metabolise sugar, causing you to become insulin resistant and may result in fat storage in some people."

These images of delicious cookies aren't helping matters, are they...
These images of delicious cookies aren't helping matters, are they...

The foods which spike our blood sugar levels the most are, cruelly, also the foods we love the most.

"Highly processed foods and refined carbohydrates and sugars such as white bread, pasta, chocolate, biscuits, pastries, soft drink, lollies and so on have a high GI (glycaemic index -- the rate at which carbohydrates are absorbed) and your blood sugar is spiked after eating them," Reed said.

"For example, sugar (sucrose) has the highest GI reading of 100, meaning your blood sugar escalates rapidly after consumption, increasing the physiological stress on your body to bring your sugars back down to a normal level, often resulting in an energy crash and cravings."

Finding the right balance (and quality) of sugar can be difficult, as sugar in itself is not necessarily a problem -- it's the amount. And then you have to consider other factors which may cause weight gain.

"Glucose is in fact your body's first source of energy, so if you are exercising and active, you will generally burn through this glucose for energy," Reed explained.

"However, it becomes more complicated when you add things like stress and hormone imbalances into the mix. When we are stressed, our bodies increase the hormone cortisol in our body, which also increases our adrenaline -- this is known as the fight-or-flight response."

When cortisol is released, there are many physiological responses that follow, Reed said.

"Your digestive system and immunity becomes suppressed, your metabolism and insulin response is affected, and your body is more likely to store fat for later energy use as a result.

"Having conditions like polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) may also increase your fat storage as it may also cause insulin resistance if not treated correctly with a low carb (low sugar) diet."

However, it's not just excess sugar or carbohydrates that can cause weight gain. It's too much food in general.

"No matter what food, too much overall energy from food will encourage fat storage," nutritionist Zoe Bingley-Pullin told HuffPost Australia.

"However, sugar from a carbohydrate source has the greatest impact on insulin secretion and if the energy (glucose) from the sugar isn't utilised, it is stored as fat for future use."

So, which foods are less likely to be turned into fat?

Nuts are safe, in moderation. Phew.
Nuts are safe, in moderation. Phew.

"Out of the three macronutrients, fat has the least effect on insulin, followed by protein," Bingley-Pullin said.

"However, combining a carbohydrate food with fat and protein will slow the release of sugars from the meal in the bloodstream and reduce the need for insulin secretion. From an insulin and nutritional perspective, it is most beneficial to opt for high fibre, complex carbohydrates such as oats, brown rice, multi-grain bread and quinoa."

According to Reed, fruits and vegetables are also slowly released into the system, stabilising blood sugars and energy release.

"Lean proteins such as eggs, chicken and fish will also be broken down more slowly and have a minimal effect on blood sugar rises that are associated with high carb diets," Reed said.

"Nuts, seeds, broccoli, cinnamon, wheatgerm, raw cacao and oats all contain the mineral chromium, which helps to stabilise blood sugars and therefore may decrease sugar cravings."

Particularly if you're training hard, make sure you eat a good balance of the three macronutrients.
Particularly if you're training hard, make sure you eat a good balance of the three macronutrients.

If losing weight and gaining muscle is your goal, Bingley-Pullin recommends eating a balance of carbs, fats and proteins.

"Firstly, eating enough overall and making sure you get a good balance of slow-release complex carbohydrates, lean protein and healthy fats is important," Bingley-Pullin said.

"Post workout, protein is critical for muscle repair and recovery, coupled with some complex carbs to restore glycogen levels, which the body has used for energy."

Healthy sources of protein and carbohydrates

Lean protein sources -- eggs, cottage cheese, ricotta cheese, milk and lactose free milk, yoghurt, lactose free yoghurt, whey protein powder, lean chicken and turkey, white fish and salmon.

Vegetarian based protein sources -- tofu, legumes, pea and brown rice protein, nuts and seeds.

Carbohydrate sources -- oats, brown rice, quinoa, sweet potato, banana and whole grain bread.

"As well as protein, healthy fats -- such as those found in olive oil, nuts, seeds and avocado -- will assist with satiety, meaning you feel fuller for longer and may result in the need for eating less, and therefore assist with fat loss," Reed added.

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