Carbohydrates are an essential nutrient that your body and brain use as their main source of energy. Carbohydrates come in three types: simple sugars, starches and fiber. According to the American College of Sports Medicine, eating too many carbohydrates can cause a spike in insulin, which can lead to an increase in belly fat. Understanding how carbohydrates can cause weight gain can help you make healthier choices and avoid belly fat.
What Are Carbohydrates?
When plants absorb sunlight, they convert its energy into glucose through a process called photosynthesis. This energy gets stored in the plant in simple and complex chains of molecules. When animals eat plants, this energy and glucose gets used and stored in other forms such as milk. Since carbohydrates are energy, any energy that goes unused by your body can be stored as body fat.
Simple carbohydrates are digested and absorbed quickly. Simple carbohydrates are sugar bonds — called monosaccharides — that are broken down easily by your body. Sources of simple carbohydrates include foods like candy, cookies, sugar, white bread, watermelon and juice. These carbohydrates are more likely to cause belly fat than complex carbohydrates.
Complex carbohydrates are made of more complex glucose bonds that are harder for your body to break down. Most complex carbohydrates include fiber — something your body can't digest — which causes them to be digested much more slowly by your system. Sources of complex carbohydrates include vegetables, whole grains, fruits and oats.
When you eat too many carbohydrates, your bloodstream ends up with too much glucose. Your pancreas unloads insulin into your bloodstream in an effort to balance out your blood sugar. The insulin delivers usable glucose to other organs and tissues — like muscle — and helps store the extra as body fat. This occurs more often with simple carbohydrates than with complex carbohydrates.
Although your body does not have a specific area it prefers to store fat, some people are more likely to store fat in their stomachs than anywhere else. According to the American Council on Exercise, due to biological reasons, women tend to store excess fat in their thighs and hips while men tend to store more fat in their stomachs. Exercising and eating a well-balanced diet rich in protein, complex carbohydrates and healthy fats can help you maintain a healthy weight and lose belly fat. Stay away from candy, juices, sodas and simple carbohydrates that lack fiber or offer no nutritional value other than sugar.
- “Lifestyle and Weight Management Consultant Manual”; American Council on Exercise; 2008
- "ACSM’s Resources for the Personal Trainer”; American College of Sports Medicine; 2010
- Creatas Images/Creatas/Getty Images
This article reflects the views of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views of Jillian Michaels or JillianMichaels.com.