Does eating carbohydrates impact facial attractiveness?

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Insulin resistance and persistent hyperglycemia/hyperinsulinemia have been linked to the overconsumption of refined carbohydrates, which could also materialize in secondary sexual traits. In fact, hyperinsulinemia modulates sex hormones and growth factors, thereby interfering with secondary sex characteristics and morphology.

Since masculinity and femininity influence attractiveness, refined carbohydrate consumption could have an impact on attractiveness. In a recent study published in PLOS ONE, researchers investigate the potential of medical disorders like hyperinsulinemia and hyperglycemia to influence facial attractiveness.

Study: Chronic and immediate refined carbohydrate consumption and facial attractiveness. Image Credit: Seprimor / Shutterstock.com

About the study

In the current study, the impact of refined carbohydrate intake on facial attractiveness was analyzed after controlling for several confounding variables. The effects of immediate carbohydrate consumption were also assessed, as certain foods like alcohol can have immediate effects on facial features. 

A total of 52 male and 52 female subjects completed a questionnaire and provided data on numerous variables including age, geographic origin, and sexual orientation. All study participants were heterosexual, between 20 and 30 years of age, and had all four grandparents of European origin to reduce cultural heterogeneity. 

Refined carbohydrate intake was estimated based on the total glycemic load (GL) of breakfast, afternoon snack, and inter-meal snack. The study participants were offered a low or high-glycemic isocaloric breakfast and were photographed at the same time after consuming breakfast.

The approach employed in the current study allowed the researchers to assess how chronic and immediate refined carbohydrate consumption influenced facial attractiveness, which was evaluated using a third rater set recruited from public places in Montpellier, France. 

Study findings

Facial attractiveness was not independent of chronic or immediate consumption of refined carbohydrates. Nevertheless, both men and women identified reduced facial attractiveness in both men and women immediately after consuming a high-glycemic breakfast. Pictures of subjects who consumed the high-glycemic breakfast showed signs of hypoglycemia, a condition that affects blood flow and the skin.

The effects of chronic carbohydrate consumption varied by the meal and participant sex. More specifically, carbohydrate consumption reduced attractiveness; however, this effect was not observed when a high energy consumption was consumed.

Conversely, this association was reversed for men during the consumption of afternoon snacks, during which high energy intake reduced attractiveness and high GL increased attractiveness. These effects were particularly robust when potential confounding factors such as age, masculinity/femininity, body mass index (BMI), and physical activity were considered. 

Chronic consumption of refined carbohydrates leads to hyperglycemia, which augments the pace of glycation, thereby negatively impacting skin aging and appearance. For both men and women, attractiveness has been reported to decline with age, as documented by preference studies based only on facial photographs.

With regard to glucose metabolism, men have lower whole-body insulin sensitivity than women. Due to the higher insulin sensitivity in women, facial femininity/masculinity and sex hormones could be less impacted by the high consumption of refined carbohydrates.

Study limitations

Certain factors such as skin color and aspect, which could impact attractiveness, may have affected the integrity of the study findings. However, all photographs were taken in identical indoor conditions.

Skin color could also be modulated by health habits and diet. For example, skin yellowness increases on consuming fruits and vegetables.

Since lunch and dinner were not recorded, an overall index of diet quality could not be calculated. However, it is possible to correlate GL and diet quality index from the recorded observations.

The menstrual cycle was another confounding variable that was not considered for both female subjects and raters. Importantly, the menstrual cycle could influence the appearance of and ratings given by women, respectively. 

Sleep deprivation is another important factor that could affect appearance and should be controlled for in future studies. The small size of the study cohort also limited the generalizability of the findings.

Conclusions

The increased consumption of refined carbohydrates in the Western diet has been associated with many adverse health consequences. In addition to its impact on the risk of various medical conditions, diet also has the potential to affect other important personal characteristics, such as facial attractiveness.

Immediate and chronic refined carbohydrate consumption affects facial attractiveness, which is an important aspect of social interactions. Future studies are needed to investigate how the effects of diet are mediated, in addition to exploring other social traits that could be affected by refined carbohydrate intake.

Journal reference:

Visine, A., Durand, V., Guillou, L., et al. (2024) Chronic and immediate refined carbohydrate consumption and facial attractiveness. PLOS ONE, 19(3), e0298984. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0298984

Dr. Priyom Bose

Written by

Dr. Priyom Bose

Priyom holds a Ph.D. in Plant Biology and Biotechnology from the University of Madras, India. She is an active researcher and an experienced science writer. Priyom has also co-authored several original research articles that have been published in reputed peer-reviewed journals. She is also an avid reader and an amateur photographer.

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