How Do Carbohydrates Influence Obesity?

6th March 2020
What is it about carbohydrates that influence obesity? They're not very satisfying and can cause you to consume more calories than you otherwise would.

Obesity is an endemic illness in this century. Even though some cases are related to genetics or hormones, for most people it’s different, carbohydrates can influence obesity. Bad eating habits are overwhelmingly the root cause.

In past centuries, nutritionists and other professionals thought obesity was caused by consuming fat. Now they know that eating fat and being fat are not necessarily related.

Today, carbohydrates are the prime suspects in the obesity epidemic. That’s why keto diets and intermittent fasting are gaining popularity.

The satisfying effect of carbohydrates

In contrast with proteins and fats, the capacity for carbohydrates to satisfy tends to be lower. It’s a little higher in the case of complex carbohydrates with a low-glycemic index because of the amount of fiber.

With refined flour and simple sugars, however, things get worse. These products not only aren’t filling, but they also cause a hypoglycemic reaction after their consumption that drives you to eat more sugary foods.

Thus begins a processed food loop in which people consume many more calories than they should during the day. That said, several current studies have raised doubts about this model, though there’s still a lack of evidence to affirm the contrary.

Bread with everything: how carbohydrates influence obesity

Another habit that’s not very good if you’re trying to control your weight is having bread with every meal. This extra consumption of carbohydrates ups the caloric intake of your diet.

Fruit and nuts on a cutting board.

In addition to this, you’re probably not usually conscious of the amount of bread you consume, which causes you to overeat. Bread, on the other hand, is usually a food of dubious quality.

Even though it’s previously been the base of meals, refined flour is usually the main ingredient. That flour has the ability to sharply increase blood-sugar and the production of insulin, which stresses the pancreas.

The function of ketogenic diets

In spite of the influence of carbohydrates on obesity and the body’s composition, ketogenic diets haven’t been much more successful than low-calorie diets high in carbohydrates.

This is because gaining or losing weight is simply a matter of mathematics: calories in versus calories out. If the caloric balance is similar in two different diets, weight loss will also be.

That said, adherence to the ketogenic diet often sees better results because it reduces your appetite. This happens because of how satisfying proteins and fats are. Plus, you get fewer hypoglycemic reactions because you’re not eating as many carbohydrates.

However, this type of diet presents a fundamental problem: a lack of fiber. To solve it, the best alternative is to supplement with prebiotics. Introducing a large volume of vegetables is also a good option to avoid intestinal problems.

The need for carbohydrates in athletes

In the case of athletes, things change. Those who train primarily in anaerobic exercises need constant carbohydrates. Alternating complex and simple carbohydrates is a good strategy for this, depending on when you’re going to compete or train especially hard.

For those aerobic athletes out there, it’s better to reduce the amount of this macronutrient in order to improve the mitochondrial reproduction and the efficiency of lipid oxidation.

Veggie and pasta recipe

Conclusion: can carbohydrates influence obesity?

The consumption of carbohydrates correlates to obesity because it produces an increase in the number of calories in your diet. It can also, often, increase your appetite. They’re not very satisfying unless the grains are whole and rich in fiber. If they’re not, it can incite you to consume more food than necessary.

When you eat this macronutrient in large quantities, it causes stress on your pancreas and increases the production of insulin. This is not a positive effect unless you’re a high-intensity athlete.

Because of this, the best thing you can do is to reduce carbohydrates in your diet and choose the ones that are the least processed in a diet with a normal amount of calories.

  1. Meldrum DR., Morris MA., Gambone JC., Obesity pandemic: causes, consequences, and solutions but do we have the Will?. Fértil Steril, 2017. 107 (4): 833-839.
  2. Hall KD., A review of the carbohydrate-insulin model of obesity. Eur J Clin Nutr, 2017. 71 (3): 323-326.