Perspective: Does Glycemic Index Matter for Weight Loss and Obesity Prevention? Examination of the Evidence on "Fast" Compared with "Slow" Carbs

Adv Nutr. 2021 Dec 1;12(6):2076-2084. doi: 10.1093/advances/nmab093.

Abstract

High-glycemic index (high-GI) foods (so-called fast carbs) have been hypothesized to promote fat storage and increase risk of obesity. To clarify whether dietary GI impacts body weight, we searched PubMed and the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews for observational studies reporting associations between BMI and dietary GI, and for meta-analyses of randomized controlled trials (RCTs) comparing low-GI and high-GI diets for weight loss. Data on 43 cohorts from 34 publications, totaling 1,940,968 adults, revealed no consistent differences in BMI when comparing the highest with the lowest dietary GI groups. In the 27 cohort studies that reported results of statistical comparisons, 70% showed that BMI was either not different between the highest and lowest dietary GI groups (12 of 27 cohorts) or that BMI was lower in the highest dietary GI group (7 of 27 cohorts). Results of 30 meta-analyses of RCTs from 8 publications demonstrated that low-GI diets were generally no better than high-GI diets for reducing body weight or body fat. One notable exception is that low-GI diets with a dietary GI at least 20 units lower than the comparison diet resulted in greater weight loss in adults with normal glucose tolerance but not in adults with impaired glucose tolerance. While carbohydrate quality, including GI, impacts many health outcomes, GI as a measure of carbohydrate quality appears to be relatively unimportant as a determinant of BMI or diet-induced weight loss. Based on results from observational cohort studies and meta-analyses of RCTs, we conclude that there is scant scientific evidence that low-GI diets are superior to high-GI diets for weight loss and obesity prevention.

Keywords: body mass index; carbohydrate quality; diet; glycemic index; obesity; weight loss.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Carbohydrates
  • Diet, Reducing
  • Dietary Carbohydrates
  • Glycemic Index*
  • Humans
  • Obesity / prevention & control
  • Systematic Reviews as Topic
  • Weight Loss*

Substances

  • Carbohydrates
  • Dietary Carbohydrates