- Researchers report that eating more refined carbohydrates may lead to greater weight gain in midlife.
- They suggest replacing refined carbohydrates with carbohydrates from whole grains, fruits, and non-starchy vegetables.
- They added that the link between carbohydrates and weight gain was more significant in women and overweight people.
Replacing refined carbs with whole grains and fruits linked to less weight gain in midlife Higher consumption of carbohydrates from refined grains, starchy foods and sugary drinks is associated with greater weight gain throughout life, according to a study. study published today in the journal B.M.J..
The researchers used data from 136,432 men and women, ages 65 and younger, who were enrolled in the Nurses’ Health Study, the Nurses’ Health Study II, and the Nurses’ Health Study.
At the time of enrollment, participants did not suffer from health problems such as diabetes, cancer, cardiovascular diseases, respiratory diseases, neurodegenerative disorders, gastric problems, and chronic kidney diseases.
Participants completed questionnaires about personal characteristics, medical history, lifestyle factors, and other health information at the start of the study and every two to four years until the end of the study (ages 24 to 28).
On average, participants gained 3 pounds every four years and nearly 19 pounds throughout the study.
The researchers reported that weight gain was associated with an increase in glycemic index and glycemic load, which are measures of the effects of different foods on blood sugar.
“This is a well-designed study that shows us a relationship, but not causation, between the types of foods we eat and weight gain in midlife,” said Dr. Holly Lofton, a doctor at NYU Langone in New York. , specializing in obesity medicine. . involved in the study, said Medical news today.
Experts noted that limitations of the study include that it was observational and cannot specifically determine the cause. They added that this was also based on self-reported data.
Simple sugars cause weight gain
The study highlighted some factors that experts consider important.
“This study reaffirms what we know about simple sugars contributing to weight gain,” said Dr. Mir Ali, a bariatric surgeon and medical director of MemorialCare Weight Loss Surgical Center at Orange Coast Medical Center in California. “And even if we knew it, it wasn’t well documented before. »
He noted that the associations were stronger among women and those with excess body weight.
“For women, this could be true because of hormones and how they affect the metabolic process,” Ali explained. Medical news today.
The cause may be different for overweight people.
“People who already have higher body weight have higher caloric needs,” said Caroline Thomason, RD, CDCES, a dietitian based in Washington, DC, who was not involved in the study. Medical news today. “Therefore, they are more likely to overconsume these foods without realizing how much they are eating.” »
The researchers noted that the study highlights the importance of carbohydrate quality and long-term weight management, particularly for people with excess body weight.
“I explain it that way to my patients,” Ali said. “Think of carbohydrates as a fuel source. If you take that away, your body will be forced to burn fat.
Choose healthy foods
In the past, health professionals introduced us to the food pyramid as a guide to daily nutrition.
“But now we’re moving away from that,” Lofton said. “There are obvious problems with (the pyramid), for example all packages are considered equal and allowed you 11 carbs a day, including sugar.
The current study found that the types of foods that led to weight gain were those with added sugar and starches.
Over four years, participants who increased their intake of these foods gained about 3 pounds of weight and gained about 2 pounds more than those who increased their fiber content. An increase in consumption of refined grains, such as corn, peas and potatoes, was also associated with weight gain.
“Weight gain occurs when we eat more calories than we burn,” Thomason said. “Calories from carbohydrates and refined sugars are much easier to overconsume in servings and total calories. Therefore, it makes sense that people who eat more of these foods tend to gain weight.
Researchers reported that replacing carbohydrates from refined grains, starchy vegetables, and sugary drinks with equal servings of carbohydrates from whole grains, fruits, and non-starchy vegetables was associated with less weight gain.
“Not all calories are created equal and I agree that the quality of carbohydrates often plays a bigger role in weight loss or gain than the quantity (total grams per meal or per day),” said Anne Danahy. , a registered dietitian nutritionist specializing in healthy aging. , menopause and prevention and treatment of chronic diseases who did not participate in the study.
“Refined carbohydrates and high-glycemic foods are metabolized very differently than high-fiber, low-glycemic foods,” Danahy said. Medical news today.
According to Harvard Health, you should primarily aim for low-glycemic foods, which can help control weight by minimizing blood sugar and insulin levels.
These also help reduce the risk of cancer, heart disease and other chronic diseases.
Some low glycemic index foods include:
- oats or steel cut
- butter beans
- non-starchy vegetables
- sweet potatoes
- Red beans
“As middle age approaches, most people, especially women, develop some degree of insulin resistance, which promotes fat storage and makes it more difficult to lose weight,” Danahy said. “Even if you don’t consume too many calories, a diet high in refined carbohydrates and added sugar can worsen insulin resistance and promote weight gain. »
“I encourage people to count fiber instead of grams of carbohydrates,” he added. “Aim to consume at least 25 and, ideally, 35 grams of fiber per day. Foods high in fiber take longer to digest, making you feel fuller for longer, so you’ll automatically eat less. Fiber also helps balance glucose and insulin levels.
“In my years of working with clients, many people are pleasantly surprised at how easy it is to lose weight and keep it off once they pay more attention to the quality of their diet than the number of calories or grams of carbohydrates they consume. consume. » pointed out Danahy.
How to structure a diet
People who are already overweight are likely to be vulnerable to unhealthy diets due to a combination of genetic and social factors, so increasing unhealthy foods is likely to affect them more severely, explained Professor Walter Willett in Epidemiology and Nutrition in Harvard TH. Chan of Massachusetts Public Health and one of the authors of the study.
“Healthcare professionals should incorporate nutritional screening and counseling more regularly than they currently do,” Willett said. Medical news today.
“In this context, health professionals can emphasize the importance of including whole grains and non-starchy vegetables in the diet, instead of refined grains, sugary drinks and starchy vegetables such as potatoes,” he added.