Previous studies have seen the same effect in other groups of women, Drake said. They include the Nurses Health Study, done in the United States, and studies of women in the Netherlands.
No effect from total carbohydrate consumption or consumption of foods with a high-glycemic index was seen in men in the Italian study, a pattern also seen in other studies, Drake added.
"There is definitely a gender difference," she noted.
The difference might be due to the action of sex hormones, the researchers speculate. Male hormones, androgens, appear to slow the transformation of carbohydrates into blood sugar, whereas the female hormone estrogen speeds the process, she said.
Dr. Suzanne Steinbaum, director of women and heart disease at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, said the study shows the need for women to be more aware of the nature of the carbohydrates in their diet.
"An emphasis needs to be placed on a diet that is not simply low in carbohydrates but rather low in simple sugars, as measured by the glycemic index," Steinbaum said.
There's a simple way to determine the glycemic index of a food, she said.
"Look at the label," Steinbaum said. "It says 'carbohydrates.' Under that, it says 'sugars.' When you have a high number for sugars, that's a way to know what the glycemic index is."
That index can differ widely in foods that don't appear to be different, she said. One breakfast cereal may have a sugar content of 16 grams, but another may have just 3 grams to 6 grams.
"If you see a high level of sugar, that's the one to stay away from," Steinbaum said.
The Linus Pauling Institute has more about the glycemic index.
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