Low and high carbohydrate diets cut life expectancy, study finds

Pearl Mccarthy
August 23, 2018

As more and more people are concerned with losing weight, the prevalence of the low-carb diet is increasing. Low carb diets were defined as carbs contributing less than 40% of the individual's energy intake, while high carb diets were those where carbohydrates accounted for more than 70% of energy consumption.

Researchers also completed a review of multiple worldwide dietary studies, which featured 432,000 participants in total.

But the researchers recognize that their findings are purely observational at this stage and can not prove a cause and effect of eating too little or too many carbohydrates. However, mortality risk has typically not been investigated, the researchers noted.

Also, studies have not yet looked at the fat and protein sources in these low-carb diets, and their impact on mortality risk. In the study, those who opted for plant-based fats and proteins had a longer life expectancy than those who chose animal-derived foods.

The study analyzed self-reported data from more than 15,400 middle-aged Americans who participated in the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities Study.

The participants answered questions about their dietary habits both at the beginning of the study and 6 years later, at follow-up.

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In the second stage of the study, the team conducted a meta-analysis of cohort studies that summed up over 430,000 people from across the world. According to the study authors, "many" randomised controlled trials of low carbohydrate diets suggest beneficial weight loss and improvements in cardiometabolic risk. From age 50, those who followed a low-carb diet had a life expectancy of another 29 years; those who had a high-carb diet lived another 32 years, and those who consumed a moderate level of carbohydrates lived another 33 years, according to the study.

Seidelmann warned about the widespread popularity of low-carb diets as a weight loss technique, with people giving up foods such as bread, pasta and potatoes.

"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.

Researchers observed that people who replaced carbohydrates with protein and fat from animals had a higher risk of early death compared to those who replaced carbohydrates with plant-based foods.

"This work", he says, "provides the most comprehensive study of carbohydrate intake that has been done to date, and helps us better understand the relationship between the specific components of diet and long-term health".

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