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Biggest Loser Blog Series: Refined Grains Expand Girths

Updated: Aug 13, 2018

sliced white bread with white background

Many Americans are like a loaf of bread – soft, with one side round.  Their choice of bread may be part of the reason.  Some researchers say white bread and other refined grains seem to go to the gut and hang out as belly fat, or visceral fat.

“Waist circumference [is] very much associated with this high-refined grains pattern,” said Katherine Tucker, an associate professor of nutritional epidemiology at Tufts University in Boston.  She and other scientists are studying what happens to the bodies of people who eat lots of refined bread.

Refining removes the fibrous bran and oil-rich germ, leaving the sweeter endosperm, the whitish-colored meat of the kernel.  The Tufts researchers say calories from refined grains like to settle at the waist.

The belt size of the white bread group expanded about one-half inch a year, which probably put some of the research subjects into a larger size of pants over the three years they were tracked, Tucker said.  At the end of the study, the white bread group had three times the fiber group’s gain in the gut!

It is not surprising that the waists of refined-grain eaters expanded, said Dr. David Ludwig, director of the obesity program at Children’s Hospital in Boston.  Ludwig was not connected to the Tufts study, but his research involving younger adults had found something similar.  One of the factors he checked was the waist-to-hip ratio – whether people’s torsos were more tapered or more round.  People who ate less fiber were rounder.

Waist size is important for health as well as looks.  A person with a bigger gut has a higher risk of heart disease than a person who weighs the same but who does not carry extra weight around the belly. 

Visceral fat has been linked to:

  • - Increased Risk of Cardiovascular Disease

  • -Type II Diabetes

  • -High Cholesterol

Why that is and why refined grains would send more calories to the gut are a mystery.  The Tufts researchers, who published their data in June 2003, are seeking answers.  Their theory is that it is linked to the ease in which the body breaks down carbohydrates in the endosperm into simple sugars.  When sugars flood the body, insulin levels rise to help pull the sugars out of the bloodstream and store them in cells, often as fat.

“I think abdominal fat cells may be more sensitive to insulin’s effects than other fat cells in the body,” said P. Kristen Newby, lead author of the Tufts study.

Woman adjusting balancing scale

But there's good news! Visceral fat is responsive to diet and exercise. Researchers know this, we know this, and now you know the good news as well. Which is why, starting this week we are holding our first annual Biggest Loser Contest at La Misión Fitness & Yoga, in order to give our community incentive for getting in shape! We want to help you feel better and live longer.

Come by this week to to enter and weigh in for our Biggest Loser Contest.

-Corey Evans, CSCS, CISSN

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