Low-Carb Diets Can Raise Heart Risk, Study Finds
•By Annie Hauser,
•Contrary to popular diet wisdom, filling up on protein and cutting carbs can raise cholesterol — and weight — in the long-term.
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Bread lovers, rejoice: There's yet another reason to skip a low-carb, high-protein, high-fat diet.
Eating more fat and protein and less carbohydrates might lead to an increase in cholesterol and risk for cardiovascular disease, a 25-year study of 140,000 Swedish adults found.An effort to eat low-carb didn't improve study participants' body mass index (BMI), either: After adjusting for the aging study population, researchers found BMI actually continuously increased over the course of the study, even as participants tried to eat healthier foods.
"While low carbohydrate/high fat diets may help short-term weight loss," cautioned researcher Ingegerd Johansson, PhD, in a release, "these results ... demonstrate that long-term weight loss is not maintained, and that this diet increases blood cholesterol which has a major impact on risk of cardiovascular disease."
The study, published in Nutrition Journal, tracked the results of a regional and national efforts to reduce the fat intake and improve the heart health of adults living in Northern Sweden. The Västerbotten Intervention Programme (VIP) — which included a push for better food labeling, nutrition information, cooking demonstrations, and health examinations and counseling — began in 1985 after Swedish health officials noticed that rates of heart disease were higher in Northern Sweden, and for men, among the highest in the world.
In the first years of the program, researchers from Umeå University, the University of Gothenburg, and the National Board of Welfare, saw that it was effective in decreasing the fat intake of participants. By 1992, men were eating 3 percent less fat and women 4 percent less, and those rates remained stable until 2005. The types of fat consumed changed, too, for example, from butter to low-fat vegetable spreads. This resulted in a continual decrease in unhealthy cholesterol levels. Self-reported use ofcholesterol-lowering drugs also declined by 1 percent during this period.
But in 2005, as the low-carb craze swept the diet world, total and saturated fat levels began to creep match up, eventually returning to pre-VIP levels. Consumption of heart-healthy complex carbohydrates — low-glycemic index foods, such as whole-wheat pasta, sweet potatoes, and lentils — decreased. Wine consumption continuously increased for study participants, particularly women, which researchers believe contributed to the overall higher cholesterol and BMI levels over time.
The higher BMIs and cholesterol levels — plus the associated heart risks — lead researchers to conclude that a low-carb diet might not be the best choice for heart health.
Thanks to the popularity of the Atkins and South Beach diets in the early august (2000+), confusion exists about the perks and pitfalls of carbohydrates. Although most experts agree that "white" foods, such as white flour, white rice, and refined sugar, should be avoided for optimal health, complex carbohydrates, such as whole grains, nuts, legumes, and beans, are more than okay for a heart-healthy and a weight-loss diet.Unless otherwise instructed by a doctor, most people should aim to eat 6 to 8 ounces of grains each day, the U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends. At least 4 ounces should be whole grains. Additionally, the USDA recommends eating nuts, seeds, and legumes (all complex carbs) four to five times each week.
When it comes to eating for heart health, experts recommend avoiding the saturated fat found in fatty cuts of meat, fried foods, and full-fat dairy. Eggs,
heart-healthy oils, avocados, nuts, fish, and poultry are all examples of heart-healthy fats to eat. If you're trying to maintain your weight and heart health over time, eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables and exercising moderately are key.