As it turns out, a calorie from sugar may not be the same as a calorie from fat or protein. High sugar diets may contribute more to obesity than higher-fat, low carbohydrate diets, especially when it comes to maintaining weight loss after dieting, according to a recent study published in The Journal of American Medical Association (JAMA).
What is maltodextrin’s role in obesity and weight gain?
While the study doesn’t specifically address maltodextrin side effects or carbohydrate intolerance or malabsorption, it does examine the effect of a high-carbohydrate (high sugar) diet on calorie expenditure and weight loss. Maltodextrin is a type of carbohydrate with a high glycemic index. Although it is technically a complex carbohydrate, it is quickly digested and broken down into glucose. It’s effects are more like that of a simple sugar than a complex carbohydrate, leading to spikes in blood sugar levels and potential weight gain.
Evidence is mounting that excessive sugar consumption is the primary culprit in weight gain, obesity and a host of related chronic illnesses like diabetes and heart disease. It has also been suggested that sugar may be more addictive than cocaine.
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Side effects of maltodextrin and other sugars make weight loss more difficult.
For most people, the side effects of maltodextrin are the same as those of sugar in general, including the stimulation of the secretion of insulin, a hormone that has a number of functions, one of which is to increase the storage of fat in the body’s fat cells.
One of the challenging things about maltodextrin, is that people often consume it without being aware of it. It is commonly added to processed foods, and the nutrition information on the label usually classifies it as a complex carbohydrate rather than a sugar, even though it’s effects on the body are more like that of a simple sugar.
The JAMA Study
The design of the JAMA study is unique. Dr. David Ludwig and his research team put obese subjects on a semi-starvation diet until they had lost between 10 to 15 percent of the their body weight.
This simulated the weight loss seen during intense dieting—the kind of weight loss that is especially hard to maintain because it causes metabolic adaptations including reduced calorie burning for energy. In other words, people who have reached a particular weight by dieting burn fewer calories for energy than those who are the same weight naturally.
The researchers measured how many calories each of these weight loss subjects were expending and fed them exactly that number of calories, but rotated the subjects through three different types of diets. Each type of diet contained the same number of calories, but had very different nutrient compositions. The subjects were rotated through all three types of diets, so every person was exposed to each diet for one month, while their daily calorie expenditures were measured.
One group was put on a low-fat, carbohydrate-rich diet, like those often recommended by government agencies and medical organizations. The diet included whole grains, fruits and vegetables and only lean sources of protein.
A second group ate a low-glycemic diet, with fewer carbohydrates overall. The carbohydrates that were included in the second group’s diet consisted of non-starchy vegetables and legumes, with very few processed foods.
Finally, a third group ate according to the Atkins diet—minimal carbohydrates with high fat and protein.
Results showed that the fewer carbohydrates in the diet, the more energy, in calories, the subjects expended. On the very low-carbohydrate diet, people expended 300 more calories per day than those on the high-carbohydrate diet, low-fat diet. People on the low-glycemic diet burned 150 more calories than those on high-carbohydrate, low-fat diet.
Put in other words, the high-carbohydrate, low-fat diet caused metabolic changes resulting in 300 fewer calories being burned by the body each day. That means in order to maintain their weight loss, the people on the high-carbohydrate diet would either need to consume 300 less calories per day or increase the amount of moderate exercise they get each day by about one hour. That’s considerable amount of work to make up for those calories, which the lowest carbohydrate dieters burned without any extra effort.
Even though all the subjects were fed exactly the number of calories they were burning after their initial weight loss, once a month had passed, the people on a high-carbohydrate diet were burning far few calories than those on the lower carbohydrate diets.
This suggests that the composition of the diet affects the number of calories burned. Burning fewer calories means weight gain, so those eating the same number of calories, but with high carbohydrates, will have a harder time staying lean.
Dr. Ludwig’s results need to be confirmed by other researchers, and a longer-term study is needed to show that these effects continue beyond the one-month duration that each subject was on a particular diet. Still, the study adds to the mounting evidence that excessive sugar consumption is a major contributor to obesity.
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