Weighing In: Are my muffins making me fat?

Patient Expert

Question: I am 36 years old, 5"4 and weigh 118 pounds. I exercise regularly. I do approx. 30 - 45 minutes of cardio 5 - 6 days a week and weight train 4 days a week. I exercise for fun. I also watch what I eat. I do not eat any pasta, breads or starches such as potatoes. I do eat a lot of vegetables, egg whites and chicken as well as fish. I drink only diet sodas and that I only have 1 to 2 glasses with my dinner.

Here is my dilemma. At night, I enjoy relaxing in front of the TV and having a snack. For the past few months, I have been having these fat free bran muffins that I buy from a store near by which is a family run business. They tell me that all their muffins are low cal. And low fat or fat free. They tell me that the Bran muffins I buy have no oil, no flour, no sugar and are made with natural sweeteners such as applesauce. I have 2 a night with a glass of Low Carb. fat free milk (which I buy in the US and it has only 3g of sugar).

I am beginning to notice I am getting a belly and I am sure it is from the carbs of the bran muffins. Here is my question. What do you suggest as an alternative? I don't want fruit I need something more tasty and substantial. I don't really care about the extra calories because I mentioned in my letter I am not looking to lose any weight and one of the reasons I do so much cardio is to be able to enjoy my snacks at niter. But, on the same note, I don't want to get a belly in the process, which is what seems to be happening as I continue eating these muffins.

Heather: First of all, congratulations for maintaining a very rigorous workout routine and maintaining a healthy weight. I understand why you would like to enjoy a treat in the evenings.

I think that it is unlikely that the carbohydrate content of the bran muffins is causing your belly. It is a common misconception that carbohydrates cause weight gain. Consuming too many calories causes weight gain; it doesn't matter whether they come from carbohydrates, protein or fat.

I would check with the store, to find out how many calories are in each muffin; however, if they are homemade, you can't be sure the information you are getting is completely accurate. I have to wonder what they are putting into the muffins, as they have to replace a lot of ingredients that provide flavor, texture and mouth feel. Remember that just because something is fat-free it is not necessarily low calorie. While the muffins may be lower in calories than the original recipe, that doesn't mean that they meet your perception of what low calorie means. It is probably the calorie amount, not the carbohydrate amount, in the muffins that is causing your weight gain.

In fact, a diet rich in fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes and low fat dairy is recommended for weight loss and overall health. All of these foods contain carbohydrates. And research shows that eating a diet rich in whole grains may lower the risk for overweight and obesity.

I notice that you follow a low carbohydrate diet and want to remind you that carbohydrates are an important part of a healthy diet. They provide energy that supports the functions of the brain, central nervous system and kidneys.

Still, I understand that this recent change in your body would be very disconcerting. I recommend looking at your overall calorie intake. It may be that the number of calories in these muffins is taking you over your daily-recommended calorie level. If so, that would lead to weight gain. If you aren't sure how many calories you should consume each day, visit the MyPyramid.gov website.

I would also check the scale to see if you are actually gaining weight, or if it is just a bloat in your belly. Bran is very high in fiber and may be causing gas, which would give your belly some minor distention making it look like you've gained weight.