When trying to lose extra pounds, we tend to think we should do away with all forms of carbohydrates — which can can be a real struggle because, as we all know, they’re delicious. But we can breathe a sigh of relief with new research suggesting that carbs might not be a direct cause of weight gain.
A recent study published in Science looked closely at the carbohydrate-insulin model (CIM), which links eating carbs to weight gain because it triggers postprandial insulin (the blood sugar produced after eating) to store energy and fat throughout the body. Researchers tested this out on mice by feeding them 29 different diets and observing the CIM reaction to see if they caused weight gain. Sixteen of these diets contained a mix of refined high glycemic carbs, like corn starch and sugar, to stimulate high blood sugar and insulin responses.
The mice were fed these diets for 12 weeks, which is roughly the equivalent of nine years for humans. Researchers explained this allowed them see the long term effects of these eating routines on body weight and fat without spending years testing it out.
Based on the CIM, researchers initially predicted that as the mice ate more carbs it would increase their insulin levels and cause them to become obese. However, the findings showed that their increased carb intake was associated with them consuming fewer calories and gaining less weight — even while experiencing an uptick in insulin.
“Failure of the CIM should not be taken to mean that low-carbohydrate, high-fat diets cannot be beneficial for weight loss,” the study’s authors wrote. “However, direct modulation of the carbohydrate-insulin axis in adipose tissue is unlikely to be the primary mechanism underpinning body fat loss in individuals successfully engaged in such diets.”
In less scientific terms, the researchers aren’t disregarding the possibility that low-carb diets can help with weight loss for some people. But rather, they’re pointing out that avoiding carbs is not a “one-size-fits-all” solution when it comes to a person’s eating habits and amount of body fat they gain or lose as a result.
Although the study acknowledged the limitations of these findings being discovered in mice, high-carb diets were previously shown to reduce body fat and improve insulin in a 2018 human study. This is because complex carbs like whole grains are full of fiber, so they satisfy your appetite without adding a ton of calories to your daily intake. The slower rate that it takes to digest them also prevents a blood sugar spike.
Both studies reinforce the fact that simply cutting out one food group, like carbs, might not always be the answer to getting rid of stubborn fat. Multiple factors can cause weight gain, whether it be a symptom of menopause or a sign that it’s time to lead a more active lifestyle.
So instead, try making small tweaks like eating more healthy complex carbs — such as oats, legumes, and pistachios. Unlike refined carbs such as white bread and pasta, these will fill you up and control blood sugar levels. Paying a visit to your doctor or a registered dietitian can help give you more guidance about tailoring your diet to meet your health goals.
And now that the weather is getting warmer, it’s also the perfect time to add simple exercises like afternoon walks to your daily routine. Doing so for about 30 minutes a day can help you boost calorie burn and shed pounds! You’ll thank yourself later for taking the time to get those steps in everyday.
Ultimately, it’s more beneficial to reevaluate areas of your daily routine that can be enhanced or adjusted. This will lead a more balanced and healthy life in the long run rather than only avoiding things like carbs. And we all know life’s just better when you can enjoy a delicious sandwich every now and then.