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Do Carbs Make You Fat? (Lessons from the Philippines)

In 2011 I was traveling in the Philippines for the first time, where I made some interesting observations.

The Philippines is probably one of the most important countries in the world that most people know the least about.

It’s the largest archipelago of islands on the planet (over 7000 of them), and a country that was previously colonized by the Spaniards and then under the rule of the United States for almost 50 years.

What I noticed is that people there eat a lot of rice (and I really meat a LOT), yet remain slim. Why is that?

Do Carbs Really Make You Fat?

Almost every single best-selling diet book published since the 90s repeats the same thing: eating carbs makes you fat. Sometimes they’ll make a distinction between “good” carbs, like fruit or whole grains, and “bad” carbs like white bread and white rice, but usually it’s the same story. Cut out those evil carbs and you will get skinny.

My own experience traveling the world, in addition to all the research I did, does not support the theory that carbs make you fat — even the so-called “bad” carbs like white rice.

One thing that shocked me coming to the Philippines is how much white rice the local people eat, with little else.

I’ve been to places like Thailand where people eat a lot of rice, but it’s nothing compared to the Filipino portions. At the breakfast buffet table, the first thing

Filipinos go for is a giant serving of rice that takes up most of their plate. Then after that they grab some of the other stuff, which occupies less space on their plate.

For lunch, the local Filipino guys eat the tallest pile of rice I’ve ever seen, along with smaller portions of meat or fish. I suspect it’s the same scenario for dinner. For dessert, they top it all off with more “carbs” in the form of fresh fruit, which they seem to devour eagerly. In spite of all this carb consumption, most people are fairly thin.

Any man working outside is downright ripped here in the Philippines. Like everywhere in the world, there are some overweight and obese people, but from my observation these people tend to eat more junk food and drink more soda.

Rice, By Itself, Doesn’t Make You Fat

Think about it for a second: a cup of rice is only 250 calories. How many cups of rice do you think you can eat in a day? It’s so filling that even if you gorged on rice all day, it would be pretty hard to eat more calories than your body needs.

Fruit is even lower in calories, as the average banana contains only 100 calories… how many bananas do you think you can eat?

Research has shown that the only way to gain fat from carbs is through a process called “de novo lipo genesis.” It’s extremely difficult to do that from complex carbs, but somewhat easier from refined sugar.

Here’s from an article I wrote at

Some animals, such as cows, have a physiology that makes it very easy for them to convert carbohydrates into fat for long-term storage. For example, cows eat grass, which is a carbohydrate that’s indigestible for humans (but they have the ability to use the energy in it), and cows can store an incredible amount of fat from this food source.

Humans are very inefficient at converting sugar into fat.

In a lecture on Fructose, Sucrose and High-Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS), Dr. James M. Rippe presented the current research on the subject. A few highlights:

– Americans consume between 100 and 150 grams of fat a day. How much of  body fat is generated from their sugar or carbohydrate intake? About one gram!
– In one study, they gave young healthy males up to 50% added carbohydrates. That’s 1500 calories above their regular diet! How much fat was produced by their bodies on this excess? 3.3 grams on average. That’s on a diet containing over 700 grams of carbohydrates.
– To put it in perspective, one pound of fat is 450 grams.
So when you feed people an extra 1500 calories from sugar or carbohydrates, and about 3 grams of extra fat are generated by the body, where is the rest going? Essentially, to glucose. 

Whenever there’s an imbalance in energy (too many calories in, not enough calories out), the body will store excess calories as fat. But those calories essentially come from the fat in your diet, not the carbohydrates!

Your body doesn’t actually store carbs from food in the form of fat. Even in force-feeding scenarios in many experiments done on the subject, The fat you eat is literally the fat you wear.
But like I said, if you eat too many calories in general, including from carbohydrates, your body will hold on to the fat in your food and in your body.

Fat is More Caloric-Dense

A tablespoon of pure sugar is 50 calories.

On the other hand, a tablespoon of oil is 120 calories, and it’s quite easy to add extra calories without noticing it by adding some oil to your food like in fried rice, fried noodles and fried meat. Also, the body can store the fat you eat as body fat with almost no effort.

A simple look around the world shows that people who eat natural foods and exercise are ripped and healthy, and most of these people eat quite a lot of carbohydrates (often because they are cheap and available year round).

Carbs tend to make you fat only in combination with more fatty foods. If you sit around all day and eat a lot of fatty food, and then top it all off with a bunch of fruit, then it’s possible you’ll start to gain weight.

Of course, not all carbohydrates are created equal. Here is my simple guide to carbohydrates:

Great — Eat Freely

  • Fruit, Beans
  • Whole grains (not processed into flour)
  • Root vegetables (including potatoes)

Okay Carbs

You can eat from this category and be healthy, but you must include other sources of fiber.

  • White rice
  • Bread made from whole grains
  • Bad Carbs

Bad Carbs

Generally avoid but if you have some occasionally, you’ll be fine if the rest of your diet is healthy.

  • Flour and products made from them
  • White sugar, and other refined sweeteners
  • Fruit juice
  • Processed grains

By the way, I am putting white potatoes in the “good carb” category. Too many people have needlessly condemned potatoes. But name me one “bad” food that you can eat exclusively for weeks and months at a time and totally transform your health in the process?

As for white rice, it is highly digestible and easy to eat for people with food sensitivities and allergies. Combine it with lots of vegetables to get some of the missing fiber and nutrients.

To discover how to keep your blood sugar stable on the raw food diet, make sure to get started with the Raw Health Starter Kit.
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Frederic Patenaude
Frederic Patenaude
Frederic Patenaude has been an important influence in the raw food and natural health movement since he started writing and publishing in 1998, first by being the editor of Just Eat an Apple magazine. He is the author of over 20 books, including The Raw Secrets, the Sunfood Cuisine and Raw Food Controversies. Since 2013 he’s been the Editor-in-Chief of Renegade Health.

Frederic loves to relentlessly debunk nutritional myths. He advocates a low-fat, plant-based diet and has had over 10 years of experience with raw vegan diets. He lives in Montreal, Canada.