When it comes to dieting, we’ve been bombarded with study after study about how carbs are the enemy and how fat isn’t actually bad for you. So it’s not surprising that people tend to opt for a low-carb diet now, removing rice, potatoes, and bread from their diet, and choosing to go with high-fat, high-protein diets.
But as happy as you are with your fat loss progress, you might want to be careful about how carbohydrates, or a lack thereof, actually affect your body and health.
The BBC recently reported that going on a low-carb diet is not the best idea as it can possibly shorten your life by up to four years compared to people who consumed a moderate amount of carbs.
Conducted over 25 years, the study tracked the records of 15,400 people in the US and their consumption of carbohydrates, and found that eating too much or too little of it was linked to higher mortality rates.
The research, led by Dr Sara Seidelmann, clinical and research fellow in cardiovascular medicine from Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, found that diets which substituted carbs with protein and fat have gained popularity as a way to lose weight. However, Dr Seidelmann has cautioned that this diet is not the best for overall health and longevity.
“[O]ur data suggests that animal-based low carbohydrate diets, which are prevalent in North America and Europe, might be associated with shorter overall life span and should be discouraged.
“Instead, if one chooses to follow a low carbohydrate diet, then exchanging carbohydrates for more plant-based fats and proteins might actually promote healthy ageing in the long term.”
In the team’s research, they found that it is due to the higher of consumption of animal proteins and fats that is linked to the increased risk of mortality. On the other hand, they found that plant-based proteins and fats actually lowered this risk.
“A really important message from this study is that it is not enough to focus on the nutrients, but whether they are derived from animal or plant sources,” said Prof Nita Forouhi, from the MRC epidemiology unit at University of Cambridge.
“When carbohydrate intake is reduced in the diet, there are benefits when this is replaced with plant-origin fat and protein food sources, but not when replaced with animal-origin sources such as meats.”
But like most studies, there’s a caveat – the results of the study were self-reported and its effects on mortality are merely a link and not a direct cause.
“One explanation for the finding in this and the other US studies is that it may reflect the higher risk of death in the overweight/obese, who may fall into two popular diet camps – those favouring a high-meat/low-carbohydrate diet and those favouring a low-fat/high-carbohydrate diet,” Prof Tom Sanders, professor emeritus of nutrition and dietetics at King’s College London, added.
So should you ditch your low-carb, high-fat diet entirely? Maybe not. But it wouldn’t hurt to switch from full-on carnivore mode to something a little less sinful once in awhile to keep your health in check.
By Gilbert Wong, Men’s Health Content Producer