Research Proven Weight Loss: Carbohydrates

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Do Carbohydrates Help or Hurt Weight Loss?

Carbohydrate Rich Foods

Carbohydrate-Rich Foods

Carbohydrates have been vilified over the years.  The Adkin’s diet and other low carbohydrate diets have highlighted carbs as the primary cause of our obesity problem in the United States.  Is there any truth to this claim or is this just hype to sell books and low carb foods?  

Research On Carbohydrates:  

  1. Cutting back on sugar and simple carbohydrates.  The simple carbohydrates are the easiest to remove from your diet.  In fact, sugar is the single worst ingredient you can eat if you are trying to lose weight.  Outside of calories, there is no benefit to eating sugar and simple carbohydrates.  One study showed a tie between high fructose corn syrup consumption and obesity[1].  Other studies also support this belief[2],[3],[4],[5].  It only makes sense that sugar and high fructose corn syrup can cause obesity since they are readily absorbed and require little work to digest.  
  2. Sugar-sweetened beverages increase your risk for diabetes and heart disease.  Studies show that increased sugar consumption is strongly associated with the risk of heart disease and other cardiac equivalents such as type 2 diabetes[6],[7],[8],[9].  Although this is more complex than sugar alone and genetics play a part, This leans toward suggesting a limitation for 10% or less of our calories from simple sugars.  
  3. Eat more unrefined carbohydrates.  I have already discussed the evils of simple sugars.  Unrefined or less refined sugars contain more fiber and slow the absorption of sugars.  Refined carbohydrates are usually sugar or grains that have been stripped of their fiber.  Studies show that refined carbs can spike blood sugar rapidly and that fiber slows this down.  For more information on fiber, see my page on fiber and weight loss research.  
  4. Going Lower Carb.  I am not a low carbohydrate guy, but lower carbohydrate and higher protein diets make sense.  Beyond the Adkin’s diet, plenty of studies show that lower carb and higher protein diets can help you lose weight as a standard low-fat diet[10],[11],[12],[13].  There is also an excellent study from new England Journal which showed that multiple types of diets can be successful if there is a calorie deficit but that they should be tailored to the specific patient[14].  The key concept is that a traditional higher carb and low-fat diet is harder to maintain for most so I would recommend that you tailor a diet to your needs.  If you find the regular diet too hard to sustain, consider a higher protein and lower carbohydrate diet.  

Recommendations on Carbohydrates:

  1. Avoid high fructose corn syrup.  There is no nutrient value to most of the foods that have this added if you exclude calories.  
  2. Avoid simple sugars and sugar-sweetened juices.  There is no nutrient value to most of the foods that have this added if you exclude calories.
  3. Avoid fruit juices.  Eat whole fruits instead so you get the fiber also.  
  4. Eat plenty of fiber.  Fiber will slow down the digestion and absorption of calories.  
Footnotes
[1]Bray, Nielsen, and Popkin, “Consumption of High-Fructose Corn Syrup in Beverages May Play a Role in the Epidemic of Obesity.”
[2]Stanhope, “Sugar Consumption, Metabolic Disease and Obesity: The State of the Controversy.”
[3]Lee, Chowdhury, and Welsh, “Sugars and Adiposity: The Long-Term Effects of Consuming Added and Naturally Occurring Sugars in Foods and in Beverages.”
[4]Ludwig et al., “High Glycemic Index Foods, Overeating, and Obesity.”
[5]Roberts, “High-Glycemic Index Foods, Hunger, and Obesity: Is There a Connection?”
[6]Lean and Te, “Sugar and Type 2 Diabetes.”
[7]Khan and Sievenpiper, “Controversies about Sugars: Results from Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses on Obesity, Cardiometabolic Disease and Diabetes.”
[8]de et al., “Sweetened Beverage Consumption, Incident Coronary Heart Disease, and Biomarkers of Risk in Men.”
[9]Schulze, “Sugar-Sweetened Beverages, Weight Gain, and Incidence of Type 2 Diabetes in Young and Middle-Aged Women.”
[10]Eisenstein et al., “High-Protein Weight-Loss Diets: Are They Safe and Do They Work? A Review of the Experimental and Epidemiologic Data.”
[11]Layman et al., “A Reduced Ratio of Dietary Carbohydrate to Protein Improves Body Composition and Blood Lipid Profiles during Weight Loss in Adult Women.”
[12]Abete et al., “Effects of Two Energy-Restricted Diets Differing in the Carbohydrate/Protein Ratio on Weight Loss and Oxidative Changes of Obese Men.”
[13]Noakes et al., “Effect of an Energy-Restricted, High-Protein, Low-Fat Diet Relative to a Conventional High-Carbohydrate, Low-Fat Diet on Weight Loss, Body Composition, Nutritional Status, and Markers of Cardiovascular Health in Obese Women.”
[14]Sacks et al., “Comparison of Weight-Loss Diets with Different Compositions of Fat, Protein, and Carbohydrates.”
Abete, I, D Parra, Morentin De, and Martinez Alfredo. “Effects of Two Energy-Restricted Diets Differing in the Carbohydrate/Protein Ratio on Weight Loss and Oxidative Changes of Obese Men.” International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition 60 Suppl 3 (January 1, 2009): 1–13. [PubMed]
Bray, GA, SJ Nielsen, and BM Popkin. “Consumption of High-Fructose Corn Syrup in Beverages May Play a Role in the Epidemic of Obesity.” The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 79, no. 4 (April 1, 2004): 537–43. [PubMed]
de, Koning, VS Malik, MD Kellogg, EB Rimm, WC Willett, and FB Hu. “Sweetened Beverage Consumption, Incident Coronary Heart Disease, and Biomarkers of Risk in Men.” Circulation 125, no. 14 (April 10, 2012): 1735–41, S1. [PubMed]
Eisenstein, J., S. B. Roberts, G. Dallal, and E. Saltzman. “High-Protein Weight-Loss Diets: Are They Safe and Do They Work? A Review of the Experimental and Epidemiologic Data.” Nutrition Reviews. Oxford University Press (OUP), July 1, 2002. doi: 10.1301/00296640260184264
Khan, TA, and JL Sievenpiper. “Controversies about Sugars: Results from Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses on Obesity, Cardiometabolic Disease and Diabetes.” European Journal of Nutrition, November 30, 2016. [PubMed]
Layman, DK, RA Boileau, DJ Erickson, JE Painter, H Shiue, C Sather, and DD Christou. “A Reduced Ratio of Dietary Carbohydrate to Protein Improves Body Composition and Blood Lipid Profiles during Weight Loss in Adult Women.” The Journal of Nutrition 133, no. 2 (February 1, 2003): 411–17. [PubMed]
Lean, ME, and Morenga Te. “Sugar and Type 2 Diabetes.” British Medical Bulletin, October 5, 2016. [PubMed]
Lee, AK, R Chowdhury, and JA Welsh. “Sugars and Adiposity: The Long-Term Effects of Consuming Added and Naturally Occurring Sugars in Foods and in Beverages.” Obesity Science & Practice 1, no. 1 (October 1, 2015): 41–49. [PubMed]
Ludwig, DS, JA Majzoub, A Al-Zahrani, GE Dallal, I Blanco, and SB Roberts. “High Glycemic Index Foods, Overeating, and Obesity.” Pediatrics 103, no. 3 (March 1, 1999): E26. [PubMed]
Noakes, M, JB Keogh, PR Foster, and PM Clifton. “Effect of an Energy-Restricted, High-Protein, Low-Fat Diet Relative to a Conventional High-Carbohydrate, Low-Fat Diet on Weight Loss, Body Composition, Nutritional Status, and Markers of Cardiovascular Health in Obese Women.” The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 81, no. 6 (June 1, 2005): 1298–1306. [PubMed]
Roberts, Susan B. “High-Glycemic Index Foods, Hunger, and Obesity: Is There a Connection?” Nutrition Reviews. Oxford University Press (OUP), April 27, 2009. doi: 10.1111/j.1753-4887.2000.tb01855.x
Sacks, FM, GA Bray, VJ Carey, SR Smith, DH Ryan, SD Anton, K McManus, et al. “Comparison of Weight-Loss Diets with Different Compositions of Fat, Protein, and Carbohydrates.” The New England Journal of Medicine 360, no. 9 (February 26, 2009): 859–73. [PubMed]
Schulze, Matthias B. “Sugar-Sweetened Beverages, Weight Gain, and Incidence of Type 2 Diabetes in Young and Middle-Aged Women.” JAMA. American Medical Association (AMA), August 25, 2004. doi: 10.1001/jama.292.8.927
Stanhope, KL. “Sugar Consumption, Metabolic Disease and Obesity: The State of the Controversy.” Critical Reviews in Clinical Laboratory Sciences 53, no. 1 (January 1, 2016): 52–67. [PubMed]
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About the Author

ChuckH

I am a family physician who has served in the US Army. In 2016, I found myself overweight, out of shape, and unhealthy, so I made a change to improve my health. This blog is the chronology of my path to better health and what I have learned along the way.

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