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Yessir, carbohydrates make you fat: brand new human study

The theory that a diet with many carbohydrates - and especially a diet with a lot of quickly absorbable carbohydrates - leads to overweight and obesity, is not new. A high carb diet allows fat cells to grow, but ensures that the rest of the body gets less energy. Says that theory. Nutritional scientists from the University of Harvard published a trial in BMJ that suggests that this theory is correct.

Carbs, insulin and body fat
The researchers wanted to test the 'carbohydrate-insulin model', which describes how a diet with a lot of carbohydrates makes humans fat.

"According to this model, the processed carbohydrates that have flooded our lives during the low-fat era have raised insulin levels, driving fat cells to store excessive calories, with fewer calories, hunger increases and metabolism slows - a recipe for weight gain", says research leader Dadid Ludwig in a press release. [ November 14, 2018]

Yessir, carbohydrates make you fat: brand new human study

The researchers experimented with a group of 120 healthy subjects aged 18-65 years. The subjects had a BMI of 25 or higher. Before the real experiment started, the subjects had lost 12 percent of their body weight by a slimming diet. In the 12 weeks that the study lasted, the subjects were given a diet that provided exactly enough kilocalories to maintain their new weight.

The researchers divided the subjects into 3 groups. They gave one group a high carb diet; 60 percent of which consisted of carbohydrates. A second group received a moderate carb diet, with 40 percent of the energy coming from carbohydrates. Finally, a third group received a low carb diet, which consisted of only 20 energy percent of carbohydrates. More information about the diets of the test subjects can be found here.

In a laboratory, the researchers determined the energy consumption of the test subjects before, during and after the 12 weeks.

A low carbohydrate diet reduced the concentration of triglycerides in the blood. That is about the same as the concentration of VLDL, the 'worst worst cholesterol'. At the same time, a low-carbohydrate diet increased the 'good cholesterol' HDL.

Yessir, carbohydrates make you fat: brand new human study

In the low-carb group, calorie consumption increased by 200 kilocalories. In the high-carb group, calorie consumption decreased.

Yessir, carbohydrates make you fat: brand new human study

"If this difference persists - and we saw no drop-off during [...] our study - the effect would translate into about a 20-pound [9.1 kilo] weight loss after three years, with no change in calorie intake", says first author Cara Ebbeling. "Our observations challenge the belief that all calories are the same to the body. Our study did not measure hunger and satiety, but other studies suggest that low-carb diets also decrease hunger, which could help with weight loss in the long term."

Before the researchers divided the subjects into 3 diet groups, they measured the effect of a portion of glucose on their insulin levels. On the basis of this, they divided the subjects into 3 other groups: a group in which the insulin level hardly reacted to glucose, a group with a moderate response, and a group in which the insulin level rose sharply.

The stronger the insulin level responded, the stronger was the effect of a low-carbohydrate diet on calorie consumption. Click on the figure below for a larger version.

Yessir, carbohydrates make you fat: brand new human study

"Dietary composition seems to affect energy expenditure independently of body weight", the researchers write. "A low glycemic load, high fat diet might facilitate weight loss maintenance beyond the conventional focus on restricting energy intake and encouraging physical activity."

"Additional research is warranted to examine the effects of glycemic load on body weight, with control of energy intake. If metabolic benefits of reduced glycemic load diets are confirmed, development of appropriate behavioral and environmental interventions would be necessary for optimal translation to public health."

BMJ 2018;363:k4583.

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Low Carb Diets
Weight Loss

Plant based low carb diet is healthy, animal low-carb diet is not
The optimal amount of carbohydrates in a standard Western diet is lower than you have been told.

Exercise and low-carb diet combo excellent way to lose weight
Burning a couple of hundred kcal extra a day by exercising more is a great way to lose weight. Reducing the amount of carbohydrates in your food is another good way to lose weight.

After adaptation phase the low-carb athlete changes into a fat incinerator
Endurance athletes who have been on a low-carbohydrate diet for quite some time will burn considerably more fat than endurance athletes with a traditional carbohydrate-rich diet.