Low-carb diets, healthy or not?

January 18, 2019

Low-carb dieting is a new millennial trend where the consumption of carbohydrates is lessened while more protein, natural fats and vegetables are eaten instead. These carbohydrates come in the form of sugary foods, pasta, white rice, and white bread.

This dieting habit may result in weight loss and improved health, but claims of it causing early death are misleading.

A study was published in the Lancet to debunk this claim. Researchers from Harvard and Brigham and Women’s Hospital had 15,000 middle-age people participate; these people live in four different US communities. The participants were made to answer questions about their eating habits, and the research team then sorted the participants into groups based on their carb-consumption – three of these groups had a distinct trend – low, medium and high-carb consumption. The participants were studied over 25 years, until many of them passed away.

At the end of the study, the participants’ life expectancy was calculated and found that, at 50 years, those in the low-carb group would have a life expectancy of 79 as compared to 82 for the high-carb group. Those in the medium-carb group – with diets comprised of 50%-55% of carbohydrates – had the highest life expectancy at 83.

The data corresponded to the hypothesis that too few or too many carbs as a percentage of diet result in higher mortality rates. While it is true that the low-carb group had the shortest life expectancy, the trends identified in the study greatly concerned the type of carbs and not their consumption alone.

Further surveys found that many in the low-carb group were often making up for lost calories through meat substitution, rather than from plants. Eating animal proteins and fats has been associated with heart disease, kidney disease, and weight gain, among others. But even within this group, those who ate more fruits and vegetables had a higher life expectancy than the others.

On the other hand, those in the high-carb group tend to eat more refined carbohydrates, like sugars and grains without fibre. These carbs are high in calorific value and have low nutritional benefits.

In order to validate their findings, the research team examined other studies of particular diets and longevity; including some 430,000 people globally. The results were similar to their original food-habit survey: moderate carb intake for higher life expectancy.

Donald Hensrud, a nutritionist and director of Mayo Clinic’s Healthy Living Program says that “…the optimal carb intake is kind of in the middle,” with around 50%-55% of calories from carbs, and the rest from various proteins and fats.

Simply put, to know just how much of each food group is adequate to obtain the nutritional value required for a healthy body is key to an optimal diet.

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Category: Features, Health alert

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