If you can’t help but reach for seconds when the bread basket makes its rounds, you might want to blame your taste buds.
Some people are more sensitive to the taste of starchy foods—and that might be bad news for your belly, according to a new study published in The Journal of Nutrition.
For the study, researchers from Deakin University in Australia had 34 people complete a food diary and food frequency questionnaire for four days. Then they measured their weight and waistlines.
To analyze how sensitive they were to the taste of complex carbohydrates, the researchers gave the participants three solutions, with only one containing a small concentration of the carbohydrates. The carb solution included matodexrin, which is glucose-based, and oligofructose, which is fructose-based. Both are typically found in foods like bread, pasta, and rice.
Once people correctly identified the carb solution, the researchers then had to establish a threshold. If the study participants were able to taste the carbs at that low concentration three times in a row, they were considered sensitive to carbs, explains lead study author Russell Keast, Ph.D.
They found that those who were sensitive to carbohydrates not only ate more starchy foods, but also ate more in general than people who were less sensitive to carbs. On top of that, they had larger waistlines.
That can be bad news for your health, explains Keast, since research suggests that having too much belly fat can lead to chronic inflammation, high blood pressure, and heart disease.
Keast can only speculate why some people pick up on the taste of carbs more than others, but he theorizes that it may have something do with “positive post-ingestive feedback.”
Translation: After you eat carbs, the taste receptors in your alimentary canal, or the passage through which food passes through your body—including your mouth, esophagus, stomach, and intestines—signal to your brain that you’re eating “good nutrients,” and to keep them coming. Those subconscious signals might explain why you overeat, says Keast, but more research needs to be done to confirm that theory.
The connection to complex carbs is a big deal, since foods like whole grains are consistently connected to better heart health. What’s more, you probably assume you’re more likely to binge on refined carbs—say, like donuts, soda, and other processed foods—which are typically full of sugar.
So is there anything you can do if you can’t resist eating too many carbs—even the good kind? First, understand that you still need them in your diet. Carbs are your body’s primary source of fuel. Without them, your body doesn’t function to its fullest potential and your energy levels tank.
But eating anything in excess can throw your diet out of balance. The current U.S. Dietary Guidelines recommend getting 45 to 65 percent of your daily calories from complex carbs, such as brown rice, whole grain bread, and starchy vegetables like potatoes.
If you find that you’re consistently eating more than that, the calories can easily add up, so try to be mindful of how much protein and fat you’re eating, too. Then you can try to adjust your diet accordingly. For a general guideline, here’s how much carbs, fat, and protein you should be eating.