Replacing dietary fat with a higher intake of carbohydrates, including sugar, can have a positive effect on weight control in overweight individuals, according to a study sponsored by the European Commission and EU sugar industries. The Comité Européen des Fabricants de Sucre (CEFS) presented results of the CARMEN study to the European Parliament this week.
In October a European Commission Status Report on EU actions in nutrition highlighted the strong increase in overweight and obese people over recent years. The CARMEN study, conducted in five major European research centres in Denmark, Germany, Spain, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom, shows that consumption of extra carbohydrate including sugar, in place of fat, by overweight people can help control weight gain without involving special diets or drastic lifestyle changes, reported CEFS.
In a meeting with the European Parliament on Tuesday, Professor Wim Saris from the University of Maastricht, co-ordinator of the CARMEN research, said that although the weight loss outcome shown in CARMEN and similar studies seemed modest, if applied to the population in general, a weight loss of 2-3.5 kgs would actually halve the percentage of obese people (for instance in the USA from 20 per cent to 10 per cent).
CEFS said it commissioned the study to address 'lingering doubts' still held by some members of the scientific community, who continue to differentiate between substituting complex carbohydrates for fat calories and substituting simple carbohydrate calories for fat calories.
The group claims that high carbohydrate/low fat diets are the best way to prevent the slow creeping gain in body weight and fat mass. High BMI and fat mass is correlated with fat intake rather than sugar intake, it argues.
Carried out on 400 moderately obese volunteers, CARMEN investigated the effects of high-carbohydrate/low-fat diets and the type of carbohydrate (simple vs complex) on bodyweight, fat mass and blood lipids, in as near a free-living setting as possible.
Results show that a substantial increase in carbohydrate intake compared with a typical European diet, and a reduction in fat intake, reduced body weight (and body fat) in moderately obese adults. The loss of body fat occurred without consciously cutting calorie intake from the diet, and had the same effect whether the fat-substituting foods contained simple sugars or were starch-based, report the researchers.
The study also demonstrated a modest yet significant loss in fat mass (of 1.3 - 1.8 kg) in both the sugar and starch groups Both intervention groups showed no adverse (nor statistically different) effects on blood lipid parameters nor on total fibre intake.
Presenting the study, the sugar industry claimed the results refute the theory that sweetened food promotes passive over-consumption, and by implication, weight gain. The study findings also challenge the view that sugar is a contributing factor to the public health problem of obesity. And the results challenge the controversy about whether fat should be replaced by either simple or complex carbohydrates in weight control diets, finding that there is no difference.
Commenting on the study, the CEFS conclude: "With regard to weight control, people need to watch their fat intake, rather than control their intake of sweet carbohydrates such as sugar, which after all will make their diets more acceptable."
The European Sugar Industry said the presentation was part of its effort to promote wider communication on healthy dietary habits and to educate consumers on good nutrition.