Does carbohydrate become body fat?

Originally Published: February 21, 1997
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Dear Alice,

Is carbohydrate transformed into fat in the body?

Dear Reader,

In the body, carbohydrate is metabolized mainly into glucose, a major source of immediate energy, which is delivered to body cells. Any extra carbohydrate is converted to glycogen (a source of glucose and reserve energy stored in the liver and muscle tissues of humans and animals), or fatty acids, which are later stored as body fat. Therefore, although fat calories are most easily converted to fat in the body, calories from carbohydrate, as well as from protein, will also be transformed into body fat if these calories are not expended.

And for those of you who are interested in "carbo-loading" up on the basics about carbohydrates, if you don't know them already, then read on:

Carbohydrates are an essential part of our diet, along with protein, fat, and water. Carbohydrates, in the form of bread, cereal, rice, pasta, and other grain products, should also make up the bulk of the diet (after all, it is the base of the Food Guide Pyramid). In addition, some carbohydrates are available in a variety of other foods, including fruits, vegetables, potatoes, legumes, nuts, soy, dairy products, sugars, and sweeteners.

Our diets need to contain more complex, rather than simple, carbohydrates, because they could help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, colon cancer, diabetes mellitus, and gastrointestinal (GI) disorders. Simple carbohydrates, such as glucose; fructose; galactose; sucrose; lactose; and, maltose, are monosaccharides and disaccharides, which are sugars containing one or two bonds and/or rings. Complex carbohydrates, such as starch; the fibers; and, glycogen, are polysaccharides, which are sugars containing more than two bonds.

Of all of the carbohydrates available in food, fiber holds the most potential value. According to the National Cancer Institute (NCI) in Bethesda, Maryland, 25 - 35 grams (g), or 10 - 13 g/1000 calories, of daily dietary fiber intake is recommended. It is important to eat a diet rich in fiber because it helps you consume fewer calories from fat, and also helps regulate your bowel movements. Build up your fiber intake gradually in order to help your body's gastrointestinal (GI) system to adjust to the added bulk, and drink plenty of water while on a high fiber diet as well.

To help you identify fiber-rich foods, select unrefined   plant foods, such as whole-grain products, fruits, vegetables, and legumes. It is also recommended that our dietary fiber intake be in a ratio of 3:1 of insoluble to soluble fiber. Water-insoluble fiber (i.e., cellulose, some hemicelluloses, and lignin) is predominant in vegetables, wheat, and cereals; whereas, water-soluble fiber (i.e., pectins, gums, mucilages, and some hemicelluloses) is predominant in fruits, oats, barley, and legumes.

Count those calories,

Alice