Low Carb Diet May Lower Life Expectancy

A low-carb diet could shorten life expectancy by up to four years, a study suggests.

Over the past few decades, dieticians and other healthcare workers have frequently been recommending a low carb diet for their patients. One of the most common low carb diets, the Atkins diet is very popular for people who want to lose weight. However, now a US study done over a period of 25 years reveals that a very low carb diet may not be that beneficial; instead moderate carb consumption or changing to a plant-based protein diet with fat is a lot healthier.

The study findings are based on answers collected through questionnaires as well as on individuals remembering the amount and type of carbohydrate they consumed. The study is published in the Lancet Public Health.

Questionnaires were  sent out to over 15,000 people in the US. Study participants completed the forms and stated how much food and drink they consumed along with the portion size. From the questionnaire, the researchers estimated the number of calories the individuals derived from fats, carbohydrates, and protein. After following the participants for 25 years, the researchers observed that individuals who obtained 50-55% of their energy from carbohydrates (the moderate carb group) had a slightly lower risk of death compared with the high carb and low carb group. The carbohydrates that were consumed included fruit, sugar, vegetables and starchy foods like bread, rice, potatoes, cereals, and pasta.

The researchers estimated the life-span and calculated that those who consumed a moderate carb diet will live another 33 years from the age of 50. This was an additional four more years than people who eat a low carb diet and 1.1 more years more than people who consume a high carb diet. These findings are similar to the previous studies which included more than 400,000 people from over 20 countries.

The researchers also noted that eating more lamb, pork, beef, chicken, and cheese instead of carbs was associated with a slightly increased risk of death. On the other hand, replacing carbs with more plant-based proteins and fats such as nuts and legumes actually lowered the risk of death.

The NHS Eatwell guide provides comprehensive information about a healthy, well-balanced diet. This guide also recommends a moderate carb intake as this type of diet is associated with a much lower risk of illness in the long run.

Dr. Sarah Seidelmann from Brigham and Women’s Hospital who led the research said, “Low-carb diets that replace carbohydrates with protein or fat are gaining widespread popularity as a health and weight-loss strategy. However, our data suggest that animal-based low carbohydrate diets, which are prevalent in North America and Europe, might be associated with a 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.”