Consuming too many refined carbs may make you less attractive, study finds

Shocked woman caught sneaking food from the fridge
If you're looking for a little mid-March motivation to clean up your diet, well, look no further. Photo credit: Getty Images

The time for New Year's resolutions has well and truly passed, but if you're looking for a little mid-March motivation to clean up your diet, well, look no further. 

Consuming too many refined carbohydrates - think white bread, white rice and pastries - may make you less attractive, new research suggests. 

The Western diet consists of high levels of refined carbohydrates, such as white flour, table sugar and ingredients in many packaged snacks. The processing of refined carbs means the food is stripped of the bulk of its nutritional value, with prior research linking increased consumption of the carbs to adverse health effects such as obesity, type II diabetes, and cardiovascular diseases.  

Previous evidence has indicated that consuming high levels of refined carbs might also affect non-medical traits, such as a person's attractiveness. To further explore this, researchers from the University of Montpellier, France, conducted a study involving 104 French, heterosexual male and female adults. 

The researchers gave some of the participants a high-glycemic breakfast - one with refined carbohydrates known to boost blood sugar levels - while others received a low-glycemic breakfast. The participants also completed a questionnaire to evaluate their typical consumption of refined carbs.  

Additional heterosexual volunteers were then asked to rate the facial attractiveness of opposite-sex participants, as captured in photos taken two hours after the provided breakfast. Only participants and volunteers with four grandparents of European origin were included in this research, to reduce cultural heterogeneity. 

Statistical analysis showed that consuming the high-glycemic breakfast was associated with lower facial attractiveness ratings for both men and women. Chronic consumption of refined carbohydrates, such as breakfast and snacks, was also associated with lower attractiveness ratings, although comparatively, consumption of high-energy foods at these times was associated with higher ratings. 

The researchers also noted some differences between sexes: for men, snacking on high-energy options in the afternoon was instead associated with lower attractiveness ratings, while high-glycemic snacks were linked to higher attractiveness. 

All results held true after statistically accounting for other factors that could affect attractiveness, such as actual age, perceived age, BMI, smoking habits, and facial hairiness, the researchers said. 

Overall, acute and chronic consumption of refined carbs, or high-glycemic food, was associated with lower ratings of attractiveness, independent of other factors. The findings were published in the open-access journal PLOS ONE on Thursday. 

Further research, including larger and more diverse sample sizes, is needed to deepen the understanding of how refined carbohydrates may be linked to attractiveness and other social traits, the authors noted. 

"This type of study can't prove that differences in carb consumption caused the differences in attractiveness ratings seen, and further, larger-scale studies are required to confirm the findings. 

"Facial attractiveness, an important factor of social interactions, seems to be impacted by immediate and chronic refined carbohydrate consumption in men and women." 

In 2020, a study also by the University of Montpellier - published in the journal Evolutionary Psychology - indicated that a diet rich in refined carbohydrates can seemingly affect "non-medical traits", such as facial attractiveness.

The authors concluded that an increased intake of refined carbs has "well-known detrimental health consequences", with non-medical traits "also apparently affected in healthy women and men".

"Refined carbohydrate consumption seems not independent of facial attractiveness, a trait with important social consequences. Further studies are needed to investigate whether other non-medical traits, but with non-negligible social importance, could also be impacted."