Dr. Layne Norton routinely offers his audience insight into the latest research on training and nutrition. In the Nov. 29, 2023, video on his YouTube channel, Norton tackled a 2023 cohort study in BMJ, which delved into whether higher carbohydrate intake is likelier to lead to gains in body fat than lower-carb diets of equivalent overall calories. Check it out below:
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Are Carbs or Calories to Blame for Weight Gain?
Nearly 137,000 men and women were analyzed across three studies spanning an average of 24 years. The studies looked at associations between carbohydrates and body fat and found that, on average, those who ate more carbs gained more weight. (1)
Increases in glycemic index and glycemic load were positively associated with weight gain.
However, Dr. Norton stressed that this finding was more of a caloric issue than a carbohydrate issue. Breaking down the data regarding carbohydrate type, “those who ate more sugary foods, more high GI [glycemic index] vs. low GI, and more starchy vegetables” had approximately “one kilogram greater increase in body weight per year.” So those who ate those ‘bad’ carbs had higher body weights.
In stark contrast, those who consumed 100 grams of non-starchy vegetables daily resulted in three kilograms less body weight intake yearly. What this tells Dr. Norton is this is a caloric density problem. As a cohort study, precision isn’t 100 percent because those who eat more vegetables are likelier to have other healthy habits, such as exercising, prioritizing better sleep, not smoking, and less alcohol consumption. There are too many lifestyle factors not accounted for.
Dr. Norton concluded that sugar and high GI foods aren’t satiating, and people who eat these kinds of foods regularly consume more calories on average. That doesn’t mean that foods like fruit should be avoided, as they provide fiber and antioxidants. Norton suggested that you can do almost anything dietarily if you have the “appropriate caloric intake for your activity level and your energy expenditure, enough protein to support the lean mass that you want, and enough fiber to…reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer.”
Dr. Norton recommends eating lots of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains and filling the rest of the caloric intake with foods you enjoy if the macros support it. In the end, there’s no cookie-cutter approach to dieting. The best diet is likely what is most sustainable.
- Wan, Y., Tobias, D. K., Dennis, K. K., Guasch-Ferré, M., Sun, Q., Rimm, E. B., Hu, F. B., Ludwig, D. S., Devinsky, O., & Willett, W. C. (2023). Association between changes in carbohydrate intake and long term weight changes: prospective cohort study. BMJ (Clinical research ed.), 382, e073939. https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj-2022-073939
Featured image via Shutterstock/marilyn barbone