The Low-Fat vs. Low-Carb Diet Debate


In one of the largest studies to compare the health effects of low fat and low carbohydrate diets, researchers say the focus on fat may have been all wrong.

If there’s one message that most people get about their diet, it’s to cut back on fat. Too much fat, especially the saturated fat and cholesterol found in animal meat, dairy products and cheese, can clog up arteries and lead to heart disease, stroke and obesity.

But fat may not be only culprit in those unhealthy conditions. In recent years, studies have revealed that cutting back on fat doesn’t always contribute to a lower risk of heart disease or reduced chance of dying early. In fact, some studies show the opposite, that people who eat extremely low amounts of fat tend to die earlier.

That may be because of something else they’re eating instead. In one of the most comprehensive studies to date looking at how diet affects health and mortality, researchers led by a team at McMaster University report that rather than lowering fat, more people might benefit from lowering the amount of carbohydrates they eat. In a study published in the Lancet, they found that people eating high quantities of carbohydrates, which are found in breads and rice, had a nearly 30% higher risk of dying during the study than people eating a low-carb diet. And people eating high-fat diets had a 23% lower chance of dying during the study’s seven years of follow-up compared to people who ate less fat.

The results, say the authors, point to the fact that rather than focusing on fat, health experts should be advising people to lower the amount of carbohydrates they eat. In the study, which involved 135,000 people from 18 different countries, the average diet was made up of 61% carbohydrates, 23% fat and 15% protein. In some countries, like China, south Asia and Africa, however, the amount of carbohydrates in the diet was much higher, at 63% to 67%. More than half of the people in the study consumed high-carbohydrate diets.

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