Can carrots make you fat?
I was actually asked this question recently. Of course it depends how many carrots you eat.
Regardless of what you stick in your mouth, you’ll get fat if you consume more calories than you use. But you’re really going to have to love carrots – and be as sedentary as a narcoleptic slug – if you’re going to get fat on them. You’d need to become a complete couch carrot.
Weirdly, another coaching colleague of mine was asked this same question the same week I was, which has made me consider the cause of carrot confusion more deeply. (And made me prone to excessive alliteration).
It's easy to get confused about what constitutes ‘healthy’ eating. In this instance, the carrot question seems to be rooted in the latest advice to eat a low-carb diet.
Certainly, low-carb diets are proving to be extremely successful in tackling metabolic conditions such as diabetes. And many – though not all – people find them extremely effective for weight loss.
And it’s true that carrots, relative to some other vegetables, are ‘high’ in carbohydrates and some diabetics on prescribed diets may be asked to minimize their consumption.
But for the rest of us, ‘high’ is a purely relative term. A medium-sized carrot contains about 6g of carbohydrates, only half of which are simple sugars. To put this into perspective, a can of cola has about 35g of sugar; or a small bar of chocolate roughly 25g – and neither provides our bodies with Vitamins A, B and C.
We need carbohydrates to fuel our muscles and, most importantly, our brains. But not all carbs are created equal. Without going into detail about the differences between simple sugars and complex carbohydrates, it’s enough to use a simple rule of thumb: the more highly processed the carbohydrate source, the worse it is for our health, and for weight gain.
When we get our carbohydrates from fruits and vegetables the sugars are combined with large amounts of fibre (even the relatively abundant simple sugars in fruit). The fibre not only slows our digestion of the sugar, therefore keeping our insulin levels stable, but also limits the amount we ingest by making us feel full.
Just try eating 10 medium-sized carrots in one sitting. Yet many of us can ingest the equivalent of 30 carrots’ worth of sugar in fizzy drinks over a lunch topped off with crisps and chocolate.
As someone who spends everyday trying to get people not just to lose fat but establish healthy eating patterns for life, I find questions of whether a carrot is ‘high’ in carbs or not an irrelevant distraction. It’s as pointless as arguing over whether potatoes are ‘good’ or ‘bad’ for us; or calculating exactly how much protein we need each day as a percentage of our body weight; or fixating on gluten-free, paleo, dairy-free raw foods. All are interesting topics, worth exploring over time, dependent on our goals and individual body types, but they shouldn’t be the starting points or cornerstones of a healthy nutrition plan.
We need to be honest about the real reasons we’re fat. As well as regular exercise, we need to focus on cutting out the biscuits, the ice cream, the 5-pint Friday nights, kebabs, processed ready meals, cereal bars, low-fat spreads, piled-high portions of pasta, burgers, bread, buns, pastries, ‘coffees’ crammed with milk, cream and syrups.
We need to replace as many of them as possible with things that are actually recognisable as food: fruit and vegetables of all kinds, nuts, seeds and proper cuts of meat. Drink water instead of cola.
Before you fixate on cutting carbs, start by cutting the crap.
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