Pasta, Not Bacon, Makes You Fat. But How?

An infographic laying out the surprising science behind why carbs make you fat, while fat doesn't

One of the most utterly surprising scientific findings of recent decades has got to be that fat isn’t so bad for you after all. (Apart from, you know, potentially bringing on serious heart conditions.) In fact, if you’re looking for a reason for America’s ballooning girth, you’ve got to lay the blame on carbohydrates—in other words, bread and pasta, the very things that the government once advertised as the foundation of a healthy diet in the food pyramids we all grew up with.

The funny thing is, though, that those low-carb diets, at this point, probably feel like another fad. The Atkins rage came and passed, after all. So it’s worth recounting the science behind how carbs make you fat, and it’s all laid out in this infographic created by Column Five for Massive Health, and based on Why We Get Fat by noted science writer Gary Taubes.

The first panel illustrates some basic food science that I’ll bet you didn’t know in much detail. Namely, the long chain of events that leads to you porking up:

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The biggest culprits seem to be carbs. But does reining in carbs actually make you skinnier? Yes: Even compared with traditional calorie restriction diets, low-carb regimes like the Atkins diet make you lose far more weight while keeping calories the same. Decreasing fat, meanwhile, does nothing to lower your weight:

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But what’s so wrong with carbs themselves? In short, they cause our insulin levels to go haywire, and that, in turn, causes our cells to pull in more fat:

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It’s crazy enough that carbs, long thought to be pure and wholesome for so many years, turn out to be the devil—especially since it just seemed to make so much sense that eating fat would make you fat. With that in mind, you’ve got to wonder how many surprises science still holds for us when it comes to food.

Click here for our coverage of Massive Health’s new food app, which uses crowdsourcing to help you make better food decisions.

[Via Massive Health; Top image: Edwin Wurm’s sculpture, "Fat Car Convertible," which was recently on view in ZKM’s "Car Culture" exhibition.]

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  • hughsbayou

    If you are going to eat a lot of protein and fat you best be eating a lot of fiber to keep it all moving, just sayin' Vegetables have carbs but they are mostly fiber and anyone who has taken more than two minutes to read the recommendations knows that you can subtract any fiber carbs from the count. Eat all the fiber you want from any source and stay healthy.

  • James Harry Webb

    True. Vegetables are the miracle food, unlike fruit which people seem to prefer for their sweet taste. (Fructose=Sugar)

    If you were to compare the fiber content from whole meal bread, pasta, rice etc to a pepper, it's easy to see which one comes out on top

  • James

     Nope...fiber is not needed in the human diet at all. On a high fat-low carb diet you have the smoothest bowels ever. Fiber actually scours your insides....avoid.

  • Breeanelyse

    We have to get beyond classifying people as "fat" or "skinny" and focus on inflammation. Inflammation is caused by many things, one of those things being grains - WHEAT, corn, rice, etc.

    Each person's body responds to inflammation differently. In some people, it can cause obesity. In others, it can cause malnourishment, which makes them appear "skinny."

    Grain causes a whole host of issues for us. It makes us sick and fat. And it screws with our immune systems.

  • joe

    Lol I've been eating grains for years. I'm now in my 50's weigh 125 lbs haven't got sick since I was in my teen years and I use to be a big meat eater, very chunky, and get sick every once a month  Til I got off of it switch to grains, vegetables and tofu I've lost a lot of weight. People also seem to forget that they inject a lot of crap into animals, which is really not meant for humans consume which can also screw up our immune system and increase our death rate.

    But I'm not saying I'm healthy or anything I feel more healthier compare to how I was back then feel less stress as well. 

    All in all whether it be wheat, meat, grains, or whatever we humans are basically poisoning our bodies with every little thing we put into our mouths. But hey we can't starve ourselves either right? shoot I had a friend who told me what I was eating is bad, this guy let me tell you he was a huge health nut. Ate the right foods, exercised loved meat and the next day he was diagnosed with cancer passed away at the age of 45 he was a good guy to. 

    So yeah, you never know on how your body will just completely turn on you.

  • Jane Peters

    Isn't the problem processed carbohydrates such as sugar, white flour,, etc. Not fruit and whole grains etc.?

  • James

     Its ANYTHING that is turned into sugar in your system....including sugar filled fruits. Once inside you there's no difference

  • cindy

    Lol the funny thing about this article is the comments. Scrolling down having people bashing vegans and calling them fat then saying this guy Gary Taubes is a genius... this Gary guy looks like another fat american in my opinion and for vegans I'd recommend searching Jared Leto (yes the musician from 30 seconds to mars) that guy is in his 40's, a vegan and looks amazing! compare to this Gary guy. 

    It's just most people who go vegan can't even come close to sticking with this strict diet... also Jared does have before and after pics of himself when he use to consume "good fats."

  • James

     Are you kidding?! Taube's is a stick.....and quite a sex symbol with the ladies in the low carb community.

  • Mithos

    I was reading through the comments; Kieran you really don't have to much of an open mind towards science or other peoples comments as well. It's just like what Mystery said as long as you watch your consumption with carb foods you're fine. Science goes back and forth of what's bad and what's not bad. One minute eating a tomato is the best thing for your health the next five years or so they say it's bad. And this process keeps on continuing with science, their never 100% positive of their work. Especially with food, to this day we're still trying to figure out if the food pyramid is healthy or not, so many people are skeptical about it. That's all that really matters is how much you consume in one day. Even if it is fats, if you're over consuming on your daily calorie, fat, sodium, carb, protein etc (mostly depends on your height some will need more, some less) you'll most likely to gain a pound or two even if you exercise all day which could sometimes lead stress to the human body especially if you over workout. Plus whenever you do stop working out you're going to gain weight. This article may be right about carbs but restricting yourself of carbs is still bad. In time they'll probably fine something good that carbs do for the human body. Like my family we pretty much eat carbs all day, but we eat in SMALL PORTIONS. My father and mother are in their 50's weigh around 130-140 lbs their doctor says they're perfectly healthy. Same for me I'm 28 and weigh 120 lbs took a trip to the doctors and I'm healthy as well. You could exercise and think that your healthy but your probably not. I had friend as well who limited his carb intake, exercised daily, til one day he came to tell me he had high blood pressure and high cholesterol kind of ironic right? yet he's 2 years younger than me. So all in all if you want a healthy diet eat in small portions and keep in mind of what your eating throughout the day especially what you drink. 

  • Mithos

    Like for me for example I'll admit I eat a lot of package carb foods. But really it's all I could afford right now, but I still throw in my veggies in I as well; get my protein from tofu and pretty much drink water all day long. My physical activity is normal physical activity like cleaning, going to school etc but I'm mostly walking everywhere. But I do stay away from a lot of high fructose corn syrup type drinks/foods. I don't even come close to eating fast food at all either.

  • Mithos

    I already know who Ancel Keys is. But yes of course, high fructose corn syrup and processed carbs is bad but that's of course if you over indulge in them. 

  • Kieran

    Ok, your wright. Vegas are carbs which I eat with every meal. The problem is that people eat alot of processed carbs which contain high fructose corn syrup. On cholesterol search the name Ancel keys

  • Max

    I had to test this article and another. first was this one, I had a low carb diet increased my fats, exercised and absolutely nothing change lost 3 lbs last month... then I went to this article lost 10-20 lbs this month.

    So carbs really are not our enemies as long if you know how to eat them properly.

  • Crystal

    Carbs are bad huh...? funny how there are so many skinny Italians and Asians lol.

  • Amethyst

    Yeah, for now I've seen people who have your diet. Have fun with heart disease in the future you lard. Just cause you have "washboard" abs doesn't mean anything you could have cancer the next day & wouldn't even know it. I had a friend who ate like that you should see him now not very pretty at all.

  • Mystery

    OH NO WASHBOARD ABS! my brother is the same lets just say his washboard abs are now nothing but flab haha. 

  • Mystery

    Lol funny how she skips over my comments. Anyways I also find it funny when I go to the grocery store and all these fat people pick up meats, cheese, etc... and look beyond overweight. Yet people who pick up carb foods, look beyond skinny kind ironic right?