High Glycemic Carbs Boost Heart Disease Risk for Women but not Men

Kathleen Blanchard's picture

Women who consume carbohydrates with a high glycemic index were found to be at increased risk for heart disease. The risk of heart disease from consuming carbohydrates was not found among men in a study of 47,749 Italian adults.

Carbohydrates with a high glycemic index have an effect on blood sugar levels, but not all carbohydrates are the same. Glycemic load takes into account the glycemic index of food in addition to total carbohydrate content.

Researchers found that women who consumed the most carbohydrates overall had twice the risk of developing coronary artery disease. High glycemic carbohydrates posed the greatest risk for heart disease when the scientists assessed high– and low–glycemic index categories.

The authors say, "Thus, a high consumption of carbohydrates from high–glycemic index foods, rather than the overall quantity of carbohydrates consumed, appears to influence the risk of developing coronary heart disease."


The study included 47,749 adults, followed for an average of 7.9 years. During that time 463 developed coronary heart disease (158 women and 305 men).

Women who consumed carbohydrates with the highest glycemic load were found to have 2.24 times the risk for developing heart disease, compared to the one fourth of women studies who consumed carbohydrates with the lowest glycemic load.

The study, conducted by Sabina Sieri, Ph.D., of Fondazione IRCCS Istituto Nazionale dei Tumori, Milan, Italy, and colleagues followed the participants using questionnaires that tracked the daily diet of both men and women.

For men, the link to heart disease from high glycemic index carbohydrates was not found, perhaps from differences in glucose and lipid metabolism between men and women. Consuming high glycemic index carbohydrates in particular appears to boost heart disease risk for women, but not for men.

Arch Intern Med. 2010;170[7]:640-647