Meat-heavy low-carb diets can 'shorten lifespan'

If carbs make up 50 percent of your diet you may well live longer a Harvard study found

If carbs make up 50 percent of your diet you may well live longer a Harvard study found

In a study of nearly 15,500 people over the course of 25 years, researchers found that participants whose diets included 50 to 55 percent carbohydrates had the lowest risk of death. In other words, a "sweet spot". Diets that involved replacing carbs with proteins and fats from animal sources, including beef, lamb, pork, chicken and cheese, were linked with a greater risk of death.

The researchers at the Brigham and Women's Hospital, Boston, then compared low-carb diets rich in animal protein and fats with those that contained lots of plant-based protein and fat.

The media is reporting on a study which suggests a low carb diet could shorten life expectancy, but there are a number of limitations to the study and the findings should be interpreted with caution.

In the new study, the researchers examined information from almost 15,500 adults ages 45 to 64 from four communities in North Carolina, Mississippi, Minnesota and Maryland.

"While a randomized trial has not been performed to compare the longer-term effects of different types of low-carbohydrate diets, these data suggest that shifting toward a more plant-based consumption" is likely to help prevent major deadly diseases, Solomon said in a news release from the journal.

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"Both high and low percentages of carbohydrate diets were associated with increased mortality, with minimal risk observed at 50-55 per cent carbohydrate intake". "However, our data suggests that animal-based low carbohydrate diets, which are prevalent in North America and Europe, might be associated with shorter overall life span".

The authors said previous studies have not addressed the source or quality of proteins and fats consumed in low-carb diets. What's more, the study only assessed people's diets at two points in time, and it's possible that participants' diets may have changed during the 25-year study, which could have affected the results.

Carbohydrates include vegetables, fruit and sugar but the main source of them is starchy foods, such as potatoes, bread, rice, pasta and cereals.

The researchers recommend that rather than ditching carbohydrates, people should have around half of their calories coming from carbohydrates.

Dr Alison Tedstone, chief nutritionist at Public Health England, said: "This provides further evidence that low-carb diets could be incredibly damaging to our long-term health. This approach reduces our calories from fat to around a third of total calories, with protein making up around 20 per cent of the total, and alcohol calories sneaking in, too, where consumed".

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Prof Nita Forouhi, from the MRC Epidemiology Unit, University of Cambridge, added: "This finding is spot on in line with the Public Health England dietary guidelines in the United Kingdom".

But if dieters swapped carbs for plant-based food, such as vegetables, lentils, beans and nuts, the risk was lower.

Low-carb diets that replace carbohydrates with protein or fat are becoming increasingly popular.

"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".

The study involved a total of 15,400 people from the U.S. filling out questionnaires on the food and drink they consumed, as well as portion sizes.

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