Pasta. Mashed potatoes. Rice. If you are one of the legions of dieters out there who have been religiously cutting carbs in an attempt to get lean and fit, you may be surprised by a recent study that showed that low carb diets may not be healthy after all.
In fact, they may be unsafe.
Research presented at the 2018 European Society of Cardiology Congress in Germany found that diets very low in carbohydrates may actually increase the risk of premature death over time. Yikes.
The author of the study, Professor Maciej Banach of the Medical University of Lodz, Poland, said: “We found that people who consumed a low carbohydrate diet were at greater risk of premature death.
“Risks were also increased for individual causes of death, including coronary heart disease, stroke and cancer. These diets should be avoided.”
The study – which has not been published in a peer-reviewed journal – used diet and health data from almost 25,000 people collected through the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey between 1999 and 2010, according to Time.
The researchers found that over an average of 6.4 years of follow-up, people who consumed the lowest amount of carbohydrates had a 32% higher risk of total mortality, a roughly 50% higher risk of dying from vascular diseases and a 36% higher risk of dying from cancer, compared to people who ate the most carbs.
As Prof Banach said: “Low carbohydrate diets might be useful in the short term to lose weight, lower blood pressure and improve blood glucose control, but our study suggests that in the long term, they are linked with an increased risk of death from any cause, and deaths due to cardiovascular disease, cerebrovascular disease and cancer.”
Part of the problem may be that people who eliminate carbs might be pigging out on high fat foods instead.
As Despina Hyde, a registered dietitian at NYU Langone’s Weight Management Program, told Time: “When you’re not eating carbs, you have to eat something. We tend to eat higher protein and higher fat (on a low-carb diet).”
Plus, “Carbohydrates are the only source we have of fibre, and fibre is great for reducing risk of breast cancer, lowering our cholesterol and making us feel full for longer.”
Apparently it’s possible to have too much or too little carbohydrate in your life.
“These findings bring together several strands that have been controversial,” co-author Walter Willett at Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health said in a statement that USA Today cited.
“Too much and too little carbohydrate can be harmful, but what counts most is the type of fat, protein and carbohydrate.”
Although it’s not a sexy answer, the best path may well be moderation.
Eating carbs is good for us, as long as we are choosing good carbs. Think black beans, fruit, quinoa and whole grains.
You can feel free to cut back on stuff like white bread, white pasta and cookies. – The Mercury News/Tribune News Service
- Nutritionists are zeroing in on healthy, whole foods that come mainly from plants, not animals, as the secret to a longer life.
- with wind/Flickr
- Low-carb diets like the ketogenic diet are popular strategies for rapid weight loss and appetite control.
- Keto diets require eaters to essentially forgo all carbohydrates and fuel up on fats and limited amounts of proteins instead.
- Because sugar is a carb, many keto dieters drastically reduce their sugar intake – but they eliminate healthier carbs too.
- Nutritionists are starting to notice that people who live the longest tend to incorporate more plant-based foods, including some fiber-rich carbs, into their diets.
- It’s another reminder that focusing on healthy, plant-based, whole foods is a better long-term strategy than dieting.
Scientists and dietitians are starting to agree on a recipe for a long, healthy life. It’s not sexy, and it doesn’t involve fancy pills or pricey diet potions.
Fill your plate with plants. Include vegetables, whole grains, healthy fats, and legumes. Don’t include a lot of meat, milk, or highly processed foods that a gardener or farmer wouldn’t recognize.
“There’s absolutely nothing more important for our health than what we eat each and every day,” Sara Seidelmann, a cardiologist and nutrition researcher at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, told Business Insider.
Seidelmann recently published a massive, blockbuster global study of the eating patterns of more than 447,000 people around the world. What she discovered – and what is probably not a huge surprise – is that no matter where you live or what your daily diet is like, banning entire food groups and thinking you can cheat your way into good health might work for a while, but it could also send you into an early grave.
The popular ketogenic diet, which involves strictly limiting carbs to less than 50 grams a day (that’s no more than two apples’ worth) and subsisting primarily on high-fat foods, is one of those restrictive diets that could have harmful long-term consequences.
Other low-carb weight-loss diets that fall into this category include paleo, Atkins, Dukan, and Whole 30. Nutrition experts say that besides their potential for harm, these popular diets are really hard to follow.
[Read More: The keto diet could make certain cancer treatments more effective in mice, a study found – and a human trial is moving forward]
Some benefits of going keto are difficult to dispute. Following a high-fat, low-carb diet can be a solid strategy for rapid weight loss and blood-sugar control. The keto diet can also be great for children with tough-to-control epileptic seizures. For decades, people have seen stellar results managing those conditions on a keto diet with the help and guidance of professionals.
But there’s some limited evidence that going low-carb might also lead people to become less tolerant of glucose and develop diabetes, though more research is needed.
What we do know, based on carefully conducted laboratory testing of overweight men, is that going keto probably doesn’t help burn more body fat than a regular regimen. Instead, it forces people to dramatically curb their sugar intake (remember, sugar is 100% carbohydrate) and kick processed foods to the curb. Those are both good habits for overall health and blood-sugar levels, and they can help reduce your likelihood of developing cancer.
But like taking aspirin, eating a special high-fat, low-carb diet probably shouldn’t be an everyday habit for otherwise healthy people. Our bodies simply aren’t designed to fuel up on fats, unless we’re literally starving. Even Josh Axe, a keto evangelist, has said it’s not a diet that should be followed for more than a few months at a time.
Finally, low-carb diets make it easy to neglect key nutrients like magnesium, calcium, and potassium that can be plentiful on less restrictive diets with fresh, high-carb foods like beans, bananas, and oats.
More studies suggest that people who eat whole, nutrient-rich foods live the longest and have a lower risk of cancer
More research that backs up Seidelmann’s was presented in August at the European Society of Cardiology Congress.
Researchers who presented at that conference studied the self-reported eating patterns of nearly 25,000 people in the US and compared their results with studies involving more than 447,500 people. Again, they found that those who ate a moderate amount of carbohydrates were more likely to live longer than either low-carb or high-carb dieters.
“Our study suggests that in the long-term, [low-carb diets] are linked with an increased risk of death from any cause, and deaths due to cardiovascular disease, cerebrovascular disease, and cancer,” Maciej Banach, a professor at the Medical University of Lodz in Poland who helped write the study, said in a release.
A third study published this week in the journal PLOS Medicine that surveyed the eating habits of 471,495 Europeans over 22 years found that people whose diets had lower “nutritional quality” (i.e., fewer fresh vegetables, legumes, and nuts) were more likely to develop some of the most common and deadliest forms of cancer, including colon, stomach, lung, liver, and breast cancers.
[Read More: Silicon Valley’s favorite diet can lead to kidney trouble – here’s how to go keto without getting sick]
Basically, we’re learning there’s no shortcut to healthy eating
It can be tricky calculating the precise kind of diet that leads to a long life. Part of the problem is that (thankfully) we don’t live our lives in highly controlled laboratory conditions. Until that terrifying day arrives and we all become well-studied lab rats, we have to rely on long-term observational data, usually in the form of surveys, to know more about which diets are the best long-term plans.
In study after study, survey data from around the world has shown that people who stick to limited amounts of meats, dairy, and processed foods while fueling up on fiber-rich plant-based foods including vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and, yes, even carb-heavy beans have some of the best health outcomes. Seidelmann describes their diets as being rich in “whole foods.”
“They were not processed,” she said of the diets of people in her study who lived the longest. These people would consume whole-grain rice, not white varieties. They’d eat plants like fruits and vegetables, not more-processed versions like fruit juice or smoothies.
“You have the intact fiber; you have a lot more nutrients,” Seidelmann said.
Fiber isn’t just good for keeping your gut moving – scientists feeding diets rich in fiber to mice are discovering that the carbs, which can’t be absorbed by the body, can help protect aging brains from some of the damaging chemicals associated with Alzheimer’s and reduce inflammation in the gut. They’re confident that the health benefits of eating more fiber extend to humans too.
But a plant-based regimen with lots of fiber can be tricky to maintain on a low-carb diet, because some of the highest-fiber foods are also high in carbs, such as savory beans, crunchy peas, and sweet fruits.
“It is not a common pattern to eat very low-carb, strictly plant-based,” Seidelmann said. “At least in the Western world, it tends to be more animal-based. That just is what it is.”
People on low-carb diets often turn to more butter and meat for sustenance, which can increase blood pressure and, in the case of processed meats, contribute to cancer. Meat and dairy can also contribute to inflammation in the body, which can help cancerous tumors form and grow.
The new scientific findings all support what parents, trainers, and coaches have been saying for years: eat less junk, and continue to be skeptical of the latest miracle diet, be it keto or any other passing fad.
- Cheese may not be such a heart-clogger after all.
- A study of middle-aged, overweight adults in Ireland suggests that eating cheese isn’t bad for your cholesterol. In fact, there’s some evidence full-fat cheese may have a protective effect on the heart.
- Scientists think there might be something special about the way calcium and protein is arranged in cheese that creates this effect.
- They call it the “cheese matrix.”
Cheese fans have long felt that enjoying some protein-packed, fatty cheese is the ticket to a better life.
Now science is starting to back them up.
Cheese is high in saturated fat, which is often considered dangerous for your heart. Most nutritionists say we should only nibble limited doses of the heart-clogging fat.
But nutrition experts around the world are discovering in study after study that dairy may not be as bad for your heart as once thought. Certain kinds of fatty dairy, including cheese, could even help lower cholesterol, though more robust studies of larger groups of cheese-eaters are needed to know for sure.
In the latest study, researchers found that middle-aged, overweight adults who ate full-fat cheddar cheese reduced their cholesterol more than peers eating reduced fat cheese or butter, suggesting there’s something special about the way old-fashioned cheese works inside the body. (The study was funded, in part, by Irish dairy companies, but the researchers reached their conclusions independently.)
Study participants ate huge amounts of full-fat cheddar cheese for six weeks straight
The food scientists behind the latest cheese investigation think they have zeroed in on something special about the aged, fatty food that makes it better for cholesterol than other dairy products.
This is what they call the cheese matrix: the specific way that nutrients like protein and calcium are arranged inside the yummy blocks.
“I suppose the ‘cheese matrix’ does make it sound very mystical,” lead study author Emma Feeney, who studies human nutrition and metabolism at University College Dublin, told Business Insider. “It’s really not, it’s just a fancy word for the overall structure.”
Feeney’s study of 164 overweight, middle aged Irish adults, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition earlier this month, found that participants who incorporated blocks of full-fat Irish cheddar cheese in their diets, while limiting other dairy intake to just two ounces of milk per day, didn’t gain weight.
Instead, participants lowered both their total cholesterol and levels of so-called “bad” LDL cholesterol. They ate a ton of cheese while doing it, too: 120 grams a day, or more than half a standard Irish cheese block. It’s the kind of cheese block meant to serve an entire household of cheese lovers.
The findings go hand in hand with another study published in July, which followed more than 2,900 American adults for more than two decades. That study found people who consumed full-fat dairy had no greater risk of dying from any cause, including heart attacks, than anyone else.
Increasingly, food scientists are discovering that counting calories or focusing on avoiding specific food groups, like carbohydrates or fat, isn’t really the secret to a long or healthy life.
“We need to stop thinking about foods in terms of their fat and their saturated fat content, and thinking about them as a whole food,” Feeney said.
During the study, Feeney broke participants down into four groups. The first group were the full-fat cheese eaters, ingesting the whopping 120 grams of cheddar a day. A second group of study participants ate reduced-fat cheddar and butter. A third ate butter in addition to protein powder and calcium supplements (mimicking the nutritional value of cheese), and a fourth group had no cheese at all.
Full-fat cheese eaters reduced their cholesterol most effectively, while the reduced-fat cheese eaters and butter-plus-supplement group lowered their cholesterol a bit, but not as well.
The study authors think this might be evidence that calcium and protein in cheese, eaten as a whole food and not as a supplement or reduced-fat diet food, may best reduce the artery-clogging effects of butterfat on the body.
There’s a big caveat, however. Since so many people dropped out of the no-cheese-allowed group (who wants to volunteer to not eat cheese for six weeks?) the study numbers in that category aren’t robust enough to know for sure that eating cheese can actively help reduce cholesterol, compared to not eating any cheese at all.
“We wouldn’t be able to conclusively say that from these results,” Feeney cautioned. “But certainly, it does look that way.”
What’s so special about cheese?
- Cheddar cheese-making includes a process called ‘cheddaring.’
Nutritionists from around the world are starting to notice that people who eat more fermented dairy products, like cheese and yogurt, are at a lower risk for developing heart disease and Type-2 diabetes. While the reasons why aren’t fully understood, there are a couple big clues.
The first has to do with dairy protein.
Casein, a complete protein in cheese and milk, digests slower than most other animal proteins. Casein is a big part of the protein component in dairy: in sheep’s milk cheese, for example, anywhere between 76-83% of the proteins are casein.
Cheese is also more fat-concentrated than milk, because cheese-making separates liquid whey from curds, adding in bacteria and converting milk sugars into lactic acid, making the product less watery.
In the case of cheddar, there’s a “cheddaring” process in which salt is added and the product is stacked, turned, and aged. During this time, bacteria break down the proteins in cheddar cheese, giving it a characteristically chewy texture and cheesy flavor.
But not everyone thinks this aged dairy protein is good for us.
Thomas Colin Campbell, biochemist and author of The China Study, has taken a critical view of casein and spent decades studying how plant-based diets are better for health than animal products.
Campbell does acknowledge, however, that breaking nutrition down into individual components in food doesn’t create a clear picture of how our bodies process what we eat.
“Investigating the independent effects of one substance at a time, as with casein, is very incomplete and misleading, even though such information can be very valuable as a stepping stone to a larger truth,” he wrote on his blog.
Don’t break the membrane
There is one more potential explanation for why cheese fat may be better for us than butter fat, and it lies in something called the milkfat globule membrane. The “MGM” is a tiny outer shell that surrounds individual fatty acid droplets (lipids) in milk, and it isn’t preserved in butter.
“When you make butter, you break that membrane up, and it’s actually drained off,” Feeney said.
(Other MGM-rich dairy, like cream, contains twice the milkfat globule membranes of butter per gram of fat, and won’t raise LDL cholesterol levels, either.)
Despite the seemingly good news about cheese and cholesterol, Feeneysays moderation is still key:
“We would not recommend that people go off and eat 120 grams of cheese every day,” she said. But “a piece of cheese, the recommended portions of cheese, are not going to do you any harm.”
- We live in an overwhelming smorgasbord of colorful food choices.
- It may be harder than ever to maintain a healthy weight, according to a top Harvard researcher who’s studied people’s diets for decades.
- The best way to avoid gaining weight in the long run may be to pick a healthy diet you can stick to and eat a little less.
- You may need to re-think your relationship with fat and ramp up intake of plant-based foods like vegetables, nuts, and seeds, while consuming less meat and sugar.
Nutritionists agree that it is getting harder and harder for people to maintain a healthy weight – and that’s not all your fault.
“There is so much great-tasting food, and it’s abundant and in your face all the time,” Dr. Meir Stampfer, an epidemiologist and nutrition expert at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, wrote in a recent blog post. “To me it’s kind of a miracle that people aren’t even heavier than they are.”
Stampfer, who has pioneered many long-term top-notch health studies, said the easiest way to get people to lose weight is to simply limit how much they eat every day.
“But for free-living people that’s really hard,” he said.
Average portions in the US have ballooned as much as 138% over the past five decades, and sugar is hiding in everything we eat, from salads to plain bagels and almost every low-fat product out there.
Sara Seidelmann, a cardiologist and nutrition researcher at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School, sees the issue in a similar way.
“There’s absolutely nothing more important for our health than what we eat each and every day,” she recently told Business Insider.
Here are some of the best tips for how to slim down for the long term, from Stampfer and Seidelmann:
Healthy eating isn’t necessarily low-carb
Seidelmann recently published a study involving more than 447,000 people around the world. The results revealed that people who eat too many or too few carbs don’t live as long as those in the middle who eat a moderate amount.
Her team’s data suggests people should focus on putting whole, healthful foods on their plate, like vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and beans.
Even though some veggies and beans might be considered “high-carb,” eating them is associated with a longer life than low-carb diets that push people to eat large quantities of meat and animal products.
Focus on choosing healthy fats
“Eating fat doesn’t make you fat,” Stampfer said. That sound advice has been backed up by study after study after study.
“Eating healthy fats helps people control their weight better than diets than exclude them,” he added.
Fatty foods have more energy gram per gram than carbs or proteins, and they can also help keep you full and satisfied until your next meal.
Some of the best plant-based sources of healthy fats include olive oil, avocados, walnuts, and chia seeds. Even oatmeal has a potent dose of fat, making it a great way to fuel up in the morning.
Eat ‘just a little bit’ less
Although incorporating movement into your day can yield immense benefits for your brain and body, nutritionists agree that the most surefire way to control your weight is to properly gauge (and perhaps reduce) how much food you’re putting in your mouth.
Eating less and forgoing food for an occasional fast may even help you live longer, studies suggest. Some Silicon Valley biohackers have even decided to skip one meal a day, a version of the “intermittent fasting” craze that eliminates about a third of a day’s calories.
But we’re not suggesting anyone has to starve themselves. Just remember that a standard serving of whole-grain bread is one slice, a slice of meat should fit in an imaginary checkbook, and your cut of cheese should be about the size of four dice.
As Stampfer put it, “adopt a healthy diet, and eat just a little bit less.”
Don’t discount strength training
Your brain and your heart are some of the biggest calorie-burning machines in your resting body. But muscles can help keep your metabolism going all day, which means that incorporating some strength training into your routine can be a great way to maintain a healthy weight. But the benefits don’t end there.
“Muscle building can not only bring up your body’s metabolic rate, but also brings its own distinct health benefits that are often not as well appreciated as those associated with aerobic activity,” Stampfer said.
Those benefits include improving mental health, fighting off depression, and even reversing some of the physical effects of aging. The American College of Sports Medicine suggests regular strength training two or three times per week.
You don’t need a wide or colorful variety of foods – just find the healthy ones you like
Many principles of healthy eating that you might have learned as a kid are being debunked.
One such idea is that everyone should try to eat a varied, colorful “pyramid” of foods. Instead, the American Heart Association now suggests focusing on getting enough plants, protein, and healthy fats like nuts into your diet and not worrying as much about a diverse diet.
Recent studiessuggest that people with the most varied, colorful diets also tend to eat more food of all kinds, including processed foods. That can wind up meaning they have less healthy, whole foods on their plates and bigger waistlines as a result.
“It’s O.K. if your diet is not very diverse if you’re focusing on healthy foods and trying to minimize consumption of unhealthy foods,” University of Texas epidemiologist Marcia Otto recently told the New York Times.
- New evidence from a long-term study suggests that neither high-carb nor low-carb diets are necessarily great for your health.
- Scientists studied more than 15,000 people in the US and another 400,000-plus around the world, and found that getting about 50-55% of a day’s energy from carbohydrates might be ideal.
- People who ate significantly more or less carbs than that were more likely to die, according to the study.
For years, dieters have had to deal with a lot of conflicting advice on how to eat.
First, fat was the bad guy. Then it was considered ideal to avoid sugar and go low-carb.
Lately, dieters trying the trendy ketogenic diet have discovered that if they replace carbs with fat, they can trick their bodies into a natural starvation mode and lose weight, while still enjoying bacon and slurping heavy cream.
But a new, long-term study published Thursday in The Lancet suggests there may be a winning formula for the amount of carbohydrates to eat every day. It relies on some very unsexy, old advice: everything in moderation.
Lead researcher Sara Seidelmann, a cardiologist and nutrition researcher at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, told Business Insider that her results suggested a diet “rich in plant based whole foods such as vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and nuts is associated with healthy aging.”
That usually means about half of the calories you eat in a day should come from carbohydrates.
A Goldilocks rule for carbs
For the study, Seidelmann looked at the diets of more than 15,400 adults in the US and another 432,000 people in more than 20 countries around the world. She and her team of researchers analyzed that information in relation to how long the study participants lived.
They found that people who ate a moderate amount of carbohydrates – around half of their daily calories – tended to live the longest.
Conversely, people who derived more than 70% of their energy from carbs or got less than 40% of their daily calories from carbohydrates were more likely to die than people who ate something in between.
It’s a kind of Goldilocks finding: we should eat not too many carbs, not too few, but just the right amount.
On one end of the spectrum are people who suffer health consequences from eating too many carbs, like in some lower-income countries where people tend to rely on white rice for sustenance without much else on their plate.
On the other end are people who consume to few carbs. Surprisingly, the group at highest risk of death in the US study were those who didn’t eat carbs, since those people tended to replace carb-heavy foods with animal fats and proteins: “beef, pork, lamb, chicken, and cheese,” as Seidelmann put it.
“Clearly, filling your plate with those things increased mortality,” she said.
In fact, the researchers concluded that a 50-year-old who eats within the 50-55% carbs margin could expect to live for another 33.1 years, while someone the same age who gets just 30% of their calories from carbs would be expected to live roughly 29.1 more years.
The important part is getting as many whole, healthful foods onto your plate as possible
There is a way to do a low-carb diet and age well: people who ate small amounts of carbohydrates but more plant-based proteins like veggies, beans, and nuts were found to be less likely to die and tended to live to a ripe old age.
This might be because eating large amounts of animal fat and protein but few fresh plant-based foods can increase inflammation in the body.
“Try to make choices that fill your plate with plants,” Seidelmann said.
She agrees there’s a short-term link between low-carb diets and weight loss, but cautions that diets like keto and Atkins might not be great long-term strategies.
“There’s absolutely nothing more important for our health than what we eat each and every day,” she said. “I really would like individuals to realize the power that they have over their own health,” she said.