While eating foods made with flour won't necessarily make you fat, overindulging in this or any other food may lead to weight gain. The type of flour you eat also matters, so choose wisely to help you stay lean and slim. The best options for your health as well as your waistline are whole-grain flours such as whole wheat and whole rye.
Bottom Line on Calories
There's only one way to gain body fat: by eating more calories than you burn. Whether those calories come from flour or from any other food, your body stores any energy it doesn't need as fat. For every 3,500-calorie surplus, you gain about 1 pound, says the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs.
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For perspective, one slice of bread made with refined wheat flour contains about 73 calories, and one slice of bread made with whole wheat flour contains about 82 calories, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Cakes, muffins and other flour products made with added sugar and fat contain far more calories; for example, a slice of chocolate cake may contain more than 500 calories, per the USDA — but not because of the flour.
Calorie count aside, Northwest Community Healthcare suggests that white flour and other processed foods may contribute to weight gain by compelling you to eat more calories throughout the day. You digest refined grains rapidly, which causes a spike in blood sugar, followed by a crash. With blood sugar depleted, your body craves more fuel, so you may reach for more energy-rich food. Often, you're hungry for more refined carbs, leading to a vicious circle that can spur weight gain, In contrast, whole grains are packed with fiber, which adds bulk for satiety and slows the absorption of sugars into the bloodstream.
Beating Belly Fat
Choosing whole flours over refined versions may also make a difference in belly fat, according to a study published in the January 2008 issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Researchers told one group of dieters to make all of their grains whole and another group to completely avoid whole grains. Although both groups lost weight, the whole-grain group lost more fat from the abdomen.
Flour in Your Diet
Carbohydrate sources such as flour are an important part of a balanced diet, so don't skimp on them for fear of getting fat. According to St. Luke's Health, experts recommend eating between 5 and 8 ounces of grains each day, including 3 to 6 ounces of whole grains. These may come from flour-based foods, such as breads and pastas, or from foods like oatmeal, brown rice, popcorn or quinoa.
- U.S. Department of Agriculture FoodData Central: "Bread, White, Commercially Prepared"
- U.S. Department of Agriculture FoodData Central: "Bread, Whole-Wheat, Commercially Prepared"
- U.S. Department of Agriculture FoodData Central: "Cake, Chocolate, Commercially Prepared With Chocolate Frosting, In-Store Bakery"
- American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: "The Effects of a Whole Grain-Enriched Hypocaloric Diet on Cardiovascular Disease Risk Factors in Men and Women With Metabolic Syndrome"
- St. Luke's Health: "Getting Enough Whole Grains? You May Be Surprised"
- University of Colorado at Colorado Springs: "Eating Strategies To Gain Weight"
- Northwest Community Healthcare: "Why Is It So Hard for Women Over 50 To Lose Weight?"