Sunday, September 9, 2018

Can low-carb diets shorten your life?

Eating healthy can help you feel better, have energy and reduce your risk of developing heart disease, cancer, and other diseases.  But some people think they are “eating healthy” by cutting their carbs.   They may choose a low-carb diet to lose weight such as the popular Atkins diet.  Or they choose the low-carb Paleo diet as way to “eat healthier”.  But a recent study indicates that low-carb diets may actually shorten your life span.   To paraphrase one article, cutting carbs may also cut your lifespan. 
So often you hear people say, “I am watching my carbs.”   Or, “carbs are bad for you”.  I know people who order a cheeseburger, but then take off the bun and only eat the hamburger patty and the cheese because they are cutting their carbs.  Or they order a Subway sandwich and then take off the bread.  But is this a wise thing to do?  Maybe not.  New research indicates you may want to keep the carbs in your diet.   Those that are cutting too many carbs out of their day may actually be shortening their lifespan.  By how much?  As much as four years off your life.  But just like not enough carbs can shorten your life, too many carbs aren’t good either.  
Enjoy the Subway sandwich with the bread
What research was done on low and high carb diets?
The Lancet Public Health followed 15,428 adults ages 45-64 years living in the U.S. over a 25-year period.  Each adult completed dietary questionnaires at the start of the study and then at six years.  Study participants also noted how frequently they consumed certain foods and beverages.  Lancet also looked at other dietary studies from over 20 countries. 

What did the study find about low-carb diets?
Low carb was defined as eating less than 40% of one’s daily calories from carbs.  The study found that those who had a low carb diet lived four years less than those who had an average amount of carbs in their diet.  

Why did those on low-carb diets have a shorter lifespan?
The authors of the Lancet study speculate that those eating a low carb diet may be eating fewer fruits, vegetables and grains.  They also may be eating more animal protein.  Eating more fruit, vegetables and whole grains not only add important nutrients to your diet, but also the healthy antioxidants that help prevent many diseases.  The authors noted low-carb diets may also be lower in fiber and lower in some vitamins and minerals. 

What about high carb diets?
The study found that low-carb diets shorten your life but high carb diets do also.  High carb diets were those with more than 70% of calories from carbs.  Compared to people with a moderate intake of carbs, those on high carb diets shortened their life span by one year.  The higher carb diets such as those in Asian countries often focus on white rice and refined carbs of poorer nutritional quality.  

What is the recommended amount of carbohydrates one should have each day?
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends carbs make up 45-65% of our daily diets.  Note that 45% is greater than the low-carb diets of less than 40% of calories from carbs.  And, 65% is also less than what the study considered a high intake of carbs at over 70% of daily calories.  So eating 45-65% of your calories as carbs is a healthy choice.
The Mayo Clinic noted if you eat about 2000 calories a day, then you should be eating “between 900-1300 calories” from carbs.  Or, between 225 grams and 325 grams of carbs a day.  

What kind of carbs should we be eating?
Healthy carbs are fruits, vegetables and whole grains.   Aim for at least 5 A DAY of fruits and vegetables.   Enjoy some fruit at breakfast – whole fruit or 100% fruit juice.  At lunch and dinner aim for 2 servings of fruit and vegetables.  The Dietary Guidelines recommend half our grains should be whole grain.  So yes, still enjoy some white bread like a delicious French bread or ciabatta bread.  But also, be sure to include some whole grains in your day.  One of my students wrote on good and bad carbs and how good carbs can fuel our day. 
Enjoy some fresh fruit
Why are carbs important?
Carbs are your energy nutrient.  As Mayo Clinic notes, “carbohydrates are your body’s main fuel source”.  I am not one to cut the carbs out of my diet as I like to have lots of energy.  I like to say, “a low carb diet is a low energy diet”.  And who wants to be low in energy?  And healthy carbs like fruits, vegetables and whole grains add so many important vitamins, minerals and antioxidants to your day.   And to those who say, “carbs are fattening”.  You can respond by saying those who eat more fruit, vegetables and whole grains have better control over their weight as the fiber in these foods fills them up. 

This week, enjoy some carbs.  I enjoy carbs at every meal, including bread and cereals.  The first thing I look for at lunch or dinner is the bread.  Going out to eat, I am always looking forward to the bread basket.  But I also enjoy many fruits and vegetables during the day and include whole grains in my daily diet.  So, to live longer, forget the low carb diet and add some healthy carbs to your day.  
Foods rich in carbs

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