Pasta Lovers Beware: New Study Links Carbs to Lung Cancer

Because why should eating be fun?

Photo Credit: Sunny Forest/Shutterstock

Carbs have gotten a bad rap over the years for lots of reasons, most of them related to weight. (Remember the “Atkins revolution” a decade ago that had everyone swearing off bread?) For the most part, carbohydrates have been seen as a relatively innocuous, and totally delicious, part of our diets. But a new study suggests the health risks posed by certain carbs are much greater than previously thought, and that we may need to be choosier about the carbs we eat.

That’s based on research from the University of Texas Anderson Cancer Center, which finds people who eat foods that are high on the glycemic index (GI) increase their odds of getting lung cancer by as much as 49 percent. Those results were even true for consumers of high-GI foods—meaning refined and processed eatables such as white bread, bagels, pretzels, corn flakes, and even some fruits—who don’t smoke. In fact, non-smokers with high-GI levels were more than twice as likely to get lung cancer as smokers with low-GI levels.

That finding seems surprising and baffling, considering everything else we know about how cigarettes impact health.

“The associations were more pronounced among subjects who were never smokers, diagnosed with squamous cell carcinoma or had less than 12 years of education,” says study lead Xifeng Wu, according to the UK’s Daily Mail.

Among smokers who participated in the study, those with high-GIs ran a 31 percent higher risk of developing lung cancer than those with the lowest.

So why are these carbs potentially so risky? Foods with a high GI index raise glucose levels, which in turn causes an increase in insulin levels. The latter prompts a hormone called “insulin-like growth factors”—which has previously been linked to an increased risk of lung cancer—to climb.

It’s also worth noting that researchers found no correlation between how many high-GI carbs were eaten at once; instead, the link was determined based on the “quality” of the carbs themselves. In other words, cutting down on high-GI foods wouldn’t be enough to cut out risk; only eliminating those foods completely would. Of course, you can continue to gluttonously enjoy low-GI foods, so have at it!

The study, which was based on an examination of 1,905 newly diagnosed lung cancer cases, focused solely on non-Hispanic whites, so there may be new developments when someone finally decides to see how others are potentially impacted by this news. As always, while one study can offer new insights, researchers will definitely have to do more investigations. That said, it’s food for thought all the same. 

Kali Holloway is a senior writer and the associate editor of media and culture at AlterNet.

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