At a time where low carb diets ̶ such as the Atkins and Ketogenic diet ̶ are on the rise, food companies have been seen producing a variety of low-carb and high-fat products to appeal to consumers. However, a 25-year-long study finds that low or no-carb diets result in a shorter overall life expectancy.
Although replacing bread with bacon to lose weight sounds like a great diet plan, the study – which was published in The Lancet Public Health – begs to differ. After gathering information on the daily diets of 15,400 American participants over the course of 25 years, researchers were able to identify key dieting behaviors that directly affected the overall lifespan of these participants.
The results indicated that those who got 50-55 percent of their energy from carbohydrates (also known as the moderate carb group because they were in line with UK dietary guidelines) had a lower risk of death when compared to low-carb and high-carb groups. In fact, this moderate carb group was found to live an average of 33 years past the age of 50.
When researchers compared these results with other dieting groups, they found that the moderate-carb group lived four years more than people who got 30 percent or less of their energy from carbs (extra-low-carb group). The moderate-carb group was also found to live 2.3 years more than the low-carb group (who got 30-40 percent of their energy from carbs) and 1.1 years more than the high-carb group (who got 65 percent or more of their energy from carbs).
These findings suggest that a balanced diet is the healthiest diet option for those looking to improve their overall health. However, people should keep in mind that carbohydrates also include vegetables, fruit and sugar, but starchy foods such as potatoes, bread, rice, pasta and cereals contain higher amounts of carbs.
The researchers then took a deeper look into low-carb diets and compared low-carb diets that are rich in animal proteins and fat with versions that contained high amounts of plant-based proteins and fat. Surprisingly, the scientists found that eating more beef, lamb, pork, chicken and cheese in place of carbs could slightly increase the risk of death. However, if people were to replace carbs with plant-based proteins and fats such as legumes and nuts, they could actually reduce their risk of mortality.
These findings might come as a surprise to Western consumers as diets such as the ketogenic diet – which involves cutting out carbs completely ̶ have become a mainstream trend for losing weight. The researchers also speculate that low-carb diets result in people consuming less fruits, vegetables and grains while consuming more animal proteins and fats, which have been associated with inflammation and aging.
However, according to Professor Nita Forouhi, from the MRC epidemiology unit at the University of Cambridge, there is a solution to this issue with the ketogenic diet. She claims that keto diets that are primarily composed of animal protein and fat are lacking in nutrients. However, if consumers were to replace their carb intake with plant-based protein and fat, they would likely improve their health. In fact, Dr. Sara Seidelmann, clinical and research fellow in cardiovascular medicine from Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston and the lead scientist for this study, found evidence to back up this theory.
“Low-carb diets that replace carbohydrates with protein or fat are gaining widespread popularity as a health and weight-loss strategy,” said Dr. Seidelmann. “However, our data suggests that animal-based low carbohydrate diets, which are prevalent in North America and Europe, might be associated with shorter overall lifespan 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 aging in the long term.”
This means that the keto diet might actually improve the overall health of consumers if it was primarily composed of plant-based proteins. However, specialists still encourage consumers to eat a balanced diet with all the food groups involved. Professor Tom Sanders of the nutrition and dietetics division at King’s College London also claims that these study results might not be as accurate as assumed.
“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 favoring a high-meat/low-carbohydrate diet and those favoring a low-fat/high-carbohydrate diet,” he said.
Nevertheless, there is now evidence of the damaging effects of diets such as the keto and Atkins diet. In fact, the keto diet was also found to increase the risk of developing type 2 diabetes in consumers. This might mean that such dieting trends are bound to lose popularity as consumers continue to place more importance on their overall health. However, food companies might still be able to capitalize on these dieting trends if they focus on plant-based nutrition.