Overeating in general has a negative impact on the body, as it creates a surfeit of calories, leading to weight gain and other problems. It can be tempting to overeat carbohydrates in particular as they are often found in tasty refined forms such as cake, cookies, crackers and candy. While overeating any type of carbohydrate can disrupt a balanced diet, overeating these refined carbohydrates harms the body in a number of ways.
Poor Blood Sugar Control
Eating carbohydrates in excess, particularly refined carbohydrates, can create a series of blood sugar highs and lows. Eat a large slice of cake with frosting, and your insulin levels are likely to rise significantly, paving the way for fat storage. Insulin rises because your body is working to decrease your blood sugar, which requires this hormone. Once the insulin triggered by carbohydrates takes the sugar out of your blood stream, you risk experiencing hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar. These swings in blood sugar wreak havoc on the bodies systems, including the cardiovascular system. A pattern of overeating carbohydrates results in a diagnosis of Type 2 diabetes for many people.
Eat too much of any food, especially those high in fat or refined carbohydrates, and you're certain to gain weight. Foods high in refined carbohydrates can contribute to rapid weight gain because they are often combined with fat, and cause insulin spikes that facilitate fat storage. Stick to whole grains, fruits and vegetables to get the carbohydrates you need in your diet, as it is somewhat difficult to significantly overeat when your diet omits refined carbohydrates. A study published in the November 2003 "American Journal of Clinical Nutrition" found that women who ate diets that included plenty of whole grains were much less likely to gain weight than those who consumed refined carbohydrates.
Another problem associated with over-consumption of carbohydrates is a decrease in cognitive functioning -- often experienced as "brain fog." This phenomenon is related to falling blood sugar levels, which is an almost inevitable consequence of overeating carbohydrates after the initial insulin spike. According to the Franklin Institute, neurons are unable to store glucose, thus a bout of low blood sugar results. The effects can be confusion, nervousness and a general feeling of being "spaced out."
Warning and Recommendation
Some commercial diets recommend eliminating carbohydrates altogether, or severely limiting them. This is akin to throwing the baby out with the bathwater. While refined carbohydrates are unhealthy, carbohydrates from whole grains, fruits and vegetables are essential for good health. People should generally consume a minimum of 130 grams of carbohydrates each day, according to the Institute of Medicine. The Harvard School of Public Health recommends replacing refined carbohydrates with complex carbohydrate throughout the day. For example, you can eat oatmeal for breakfast, replace white potatoes at dinner with whole grains and eat fruit instead of drinking fruit juice.
To keep your carbohydrate intake in check, follow the intake guidelines suggested by the USDA at ChooseMyPlate.gov. Fruit intake should be limited to 1.5 to 2 cups per day for women and 2 cups per day for men. Grain intake should be 5 to 6 ounce equivalents for women and 6 to 8 ounce equivalents for men. An example of a 1-ounce equivalent is a slice of bread, 3 cups of popcorn or 1/2 cup of spaghetti. The USDA also recommends that half of your daily grain servings come from whole grains. Vegetable intake for men and women should be between 2.5 to 3 cups per day.
- The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: Relation Between Changes in Intakes of Dietary Fiber and Grain Products and Changes in Weight and Development of Obesity Among Middle-Aged Women
- The Franklin Institute: Nourish -- Carbohydrates Feed Your Brain
- Institute of Medicine: Dietary Reference Intakes -- Macronutrients
- Harvard School of Public Health: Carbohydrates
- USDA ChooseMyPlate.gov: How Much Fruit is Needed Daily?
- USDA ChooseMyPlate.gov: How Many Grains are Needed Daily?
- USDA ChooseMyPlate.gov: What Counts as an Ounce Equivalent of Grains?
- USDA ChooseMyPlate.gov: How Many Vegetables Are Needed Daily or Weekly?