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Can eating refined carbs make you appear less attractive? Yes, according to a new study.

Does eating refined carbs affect how you look?
Does eating refined carbs affect how you look? (Getty Creative)

Is there a connection between eating refined carbs and how attractive people think you are? A new study from the University of Montpellier in France found that to be the case. Refined carbs are carbohydrates that have been processed, stripping away fiber, vitamins and minerals. This process gives them a finer texture and extends shelf life but also eliminates some of the nutritional benefits. Typically, they're found in foods such as white bread, pasta, breakfast cereals, and baked goods like cookies and pastries.

While the health implications of a diet rich in refined carbs has long been studied, researchers wanted to see whether there was a significant relationship between eating refined carbs and how attractive you are perceived to be. For this study, some participants (all men and women of European descent, in order to make the group more similar culturally and reduce physical differences) were given a breakfast high in refined carbs that raised blood sugar levels, while others received a low-glycemic breakfast. Later, opposite-sex volunteers assessed the facial attractiveness of these participants in photos taken two hours after breakfast.

What did the study find?

The researchers found that higher consumption of refined carbohydrates was associated with lower facial attractiveness ratings in both men and women. The study also suggested that regularly consuming refined carbohydrates at breakfast and as snacks was linked to lower attractiveness ratings. On a positive side, the study also found that eating a breakfast comprised mainly of fats and proteins, such as dairy, with a small amount of refined carbohydrates boosted attractiveness ratings.

Claire Berticat, co-author of the study, tells Yahoo Life: “The key message to take away from this study is that food choices can affect not only physical health, but also non-medical traits of great social importance, such as facial attractiveness.”

Exactly why, however, remains unclear. While Berticat says data suggests refined carbs affect sex hormones, which influence how masculine or feminine people may appear, potentially affecting how attractive they’re rated, that’s a long-term effect — not something that necessarily appears a mere two hours after eating a meal of refined carbs.

So why is eating refined carbs linked to lower facial attractiveness?

Functional medicine practitioner Gabrielle Lyon, author of the book Forever Strong, tells Yahoo Life that “the foods we consume have a significant impact on our bodies.” A diet high in refined carbs, she says, can predispose people to insulin resistance, prediabetes and, without intervention, type 2 diabetes mellitus.

When it comes to how we look, however, Lyon says that a diet high in refined carbs “will result in more water to be stored, often referred to as ‘water weight.’” She adds that this can result in fuller facial features, including puffy cheeks and less definition in the chin, and that excess water weight can alter the size and shape of a person’s body as well. However, it’s important to note that this is after long-term consumption of carbs — not after having enjoying a pastry for breakfast once in a while.

So what’s going on? Kiera Sullivan, a clinical dietitian with Stanford Health Care, tells Yahoo Life that it’s possible the participants who ate meals higher in refined carbs experienced hypoglycemia, a condition in which your blood sugar drops. Though it is just speculation, Sullivan says it might be a key reason why people perceive those who just ate refined carbs differently.

When you eat refined carbs that are low in fiber, such as white bread, your body quickly breaks them down into sugar, causing a rapid increase in blood sugar levels. This prompts the pancreas to release insulin to help cells absorb the sugar for energy. However, the surge in insulin can lead to a subsequent drop in blood sugar. It can affect your energy levels, but also, potentially, how you look.

“Hypoglycemia tends to have visual effects, such as reduced blood flow to your skin, so it looks more dull,” Sullivan explains. “It may be that they appear older, or lose color to their skin.” It’s possible that reduced color in the study participants’ complexions made them look sickly. How healthy one appears can be one of the indicators of perceived attractiveness.

What experts want people to know about carbs

Refined carbs should be eaten in moderation, as they lack nutritional value and can crowd out more healthful, nutrient-dense foods. Carbs in general, however, have gotten a bad rap, says Lyon — and unfairly so. “It is important to decipher between carbohydrates from whole food sources like fresh fruit and vegetables versus carbohydrates that come from ultra-processed foods such as cereals, enriched pastas and baked goods,” she explains.