New Research: Eating More of These Carbs May Actually Lower Weight and Diabetes Risk

Updated: Feb. 04, 2024

It's a tough word to pronounce, but you'll recognize these foods that a new study found could have a significant effect on your gut.

While carbohydrates are often vilified, eliminating them entirely isn’t ideal for total health in most cases. After all, research has shown whole grains can provide protection against certain ailments—and there’s a good reason potato and potassium start with the same four letters! 

Now, new research suggests that a certain group of carbohydrates can actually support weight loss efforts and insulin sensitivity, with one particular category of these carbs showing the greatest impact.

One group of carbohydrates that’s been believed to exacerbate some gut-related problems and possibly hinder weight loss is known as FODMAPs. FODMAP stands for “fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides and polyols,” according to the Cleveland Clinic—but put simpler, FODMAPs are described as foods that ferment in the colon.

The Cleveland Clinic explains that high-FODMAP foods include cauliflower, apples, beans, lentils, pistachios, yogurt, asparagus, garlic, and many others that are generally thought of as otherwise “healthy.” Low-FODMAP foods comprise a similarly nuanced list, such as eggplants, eggs, cantaloupe, and walnuts, just to name a few.

While some experts advise that people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or stomach issues should avoid the high-FODMAP foods, a new study suggests this may not be applicable to those without these chronic gastrointestinal ailments. In fact, a team of medical researchers in China has found that avoiding these foods could be a mistake, particularly for individuals in a state of pre-diabetes, experiencing insulin sensitivity issues, or dealing with overweight conditions. This is because the FODMAP group includes many healthy foods, some of which are rich in beneficial fiber and probiotics that can help promote weight loss.

The study, published in the journal Nutrients on December 11, 2023, investigated the role of these foods in individuals with pre-diabetes. Pre-diabetes is a condition that indicates metabolic and other physiological changes that could lead to type-2 diabetes. Contrary to the common practice of avoiding these foods, the study suggested that pre-diabetic individuals—a population that’s been increasing worldwide—should actually consider adding certain carbohydrates to their diet to prevent the onset of illness. Specific foods included in the FODMAP diet, often avoided by some, showed potential for improving insulin sensitivity and glucose tolerance while also aiding in weight loss.

The study involved 177 participants with an average age 60 years. They’d been diagnosed with impaired glucose tolerance, which is an indication of pre-diabetes. All participants were otherwise relatively healthy with no history of medications for diabetes or weight loss.

Using a three-day diet report and other metrics, the research team assessed the typical food intake of the subjects and correlated it with their body composition, insulin sensitivity, and other markers.

The findings suggested that pre-diabetic individuals without IBS or digestive issues should consider incorporating fermentable carbohydrates into their diet. Those with higher levels of these carbohydrates generally had a lower body mass index (BMI) than the low-FODMAP eaters, and the strongest correlation between insulin sensitivity and weight loss was linked to a specific subset of FODMAPs—namely, galactooligosaccharides.

Examples of high-galactooligosaccharide foods include:

  • chickpeas
  • lentils
  • cashews
  • pistachios
  • broccoli
  • Brussels sprouts

Impressively, the health advantages of these foods persisted regardless of the participants’ exercise levels, total nutrients consumed or fiber intake.

Worth noting is that a daily fiber intake of 16 grams or greater correlated with a healthier weight and lower instances of obesity—but the researchers theorized that factors beyond fiber were responsible for the positive changes observed in individuals consuming foods rich in galactooligosaccharides. They found that the fermentation process in the body resulted in the production of short-chain fatty acids, contributing to the creation of substances associated with feelings of fullness and satiety, such as GLP-1.

While weight loss is crucial for those who are overweight or potentially pre-diabetic—achieved through low-carb diets in some cases—the researchers caution against giving up potentially healthy, high-fiber carbs. “Our findings have potential implications for using FODMAPs as a specific dietary strategy to prevent or manage diabetes beyond calorie restriction and carbohydrate-restricted diets,” they concluded. As always, consult with a healthcare provider before any major diet change.