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National Doughnut Day: What that doughnut is actually doing inside your body

June 1, 2017

In recognition of June 2, National Doughnut Day, we reached out to a nutrition expert to find out the good, the bad and the ugly about doughnuts.

For the most part, one doughnut—emphasis on one—probably won’t cause any harm or significant weight gain, unless you are diabetic or have another health condition that requires you to monitor food intake, said Sina Gallo, professor of nutrition and food studies at George Mason University’s College of Health and Human Services.

“In general, an excess of 3,500 calories leads to one pound of weight gain. One doughnut equals about 300 calories. So, if this becomes a regular habit, and you consume one doughnut per day and don’t exercise or cut out calories elsewhere, you will likely gain one pound extra every 10 to 12 days,” she said.

What’s that doughnut doing inside you?

Blood glucose levels rise and the pancreas releases insulin. Glucose gets stored in the liver; any excess glucose will be stored as fat—that’s in addition to the fat from the doughnut.

“The problem is, it tastes so good and so you want to eat more—neurotransmitters (in the brain) like dopamine are released, and this is what allows you to feel good when eating sugar,” Gallo said. Cutting back on sugar will decrease cravings.

What’s so bad about a doughnut?

It’s a one-two punch of fats and sugar, Gallo said. They are deep-fried and contain harmful trans fats or saturated fats.

Trans fats have been found to be much worse than saturated fats (which are the fats found in animal source foods) because they increase bad cholesterol and decrease good cholesterol, which in turn can lead to heart disease, Gallo said.

Doughnuts are not only high in fat but also high in sugar content―refined sugar—which raises blood glucose levels. That’s especially problematic for people with diabetes.

“Also, doughnuts are devoid of any nutrients like vitamins and minerals … just ‘empty calories,’ which will eventually lead to weight gain,” Gallo said. “It’s fine to indulge sometimes but you need to compensate somehow―either through exercise or skipping dessert the next day.”

Sina Gallo is a professor in the Department of Nutrition and Food Studies at George Mason University. She is an expert in chronic disease prevention, particularly on childhood obesity.

She can be reached at 703-993-5814 or sgallo2@gmu.edu.

For more information, contact Jamie Rogers, communications officer, at 703-993-5118 or jroger20@gmu.edu.

About George Mason

George Mason University is Virginia’s largest public research university. Located near Washington, D.C., Mason enrolls 35,000 students from 130 countries and all 50 states. Mason has grown rapidly over the past half-century and is recognized for its innovation and entrepreneurship, remarkable diversity and commitment to accessibility.