The results from new and pooled research on low carbohydrate diets were presented at the European Society of Cardiology’s 2018 Congress in August by researchers based in the UK, Poland, Sweden, and Greece. The findings are not good for those following low carb diets.
To carb or not to carb? That has been the question, and the source of several polite (and not-so-polite) conversations with friends, family, and random strangers online. And the answer, at least according to the study in question, is a resounding to carb!
The researchers concluded that low carbohydrate diets are unsafe and should therefore not be recommended to patients. There is a small subset of patients for whom low carb diets are likely beneficial, but physicians cannot in good faith recommend low carb diets to the average individual who is seeking to lose weight or maintain weight. Low carbohydrate diets can indeed be effective for weight loss, but they do not appear to be suitable — or safe — for the long-term.
And though ketogenic and other low carb diets have been popular for several decades, particularly with those looking to shed a few pounds, cutting carbs has remained controversial to doctors and health experts alike. At the peak of the low carb diet craze in the late 1990s and early 2000s, nearly 20 percent of the American population was estimated to be following a low carbohydrate diet of one form or another.
Previous studies have been in short supply, and those available have been inconclusive or incomplete. Regardless of the paucity of comprehensive research, several “health gurus”, nutritionists, dieticians, naturopaths, and even medical doctors around the world have spent a great deal of energy and time promoting ketogenic and low carbohydrate diets to the general public. Some have made their fortunes this way. The sheer number of books and articles written on the subject speaks to the popularity of the low carb movement.
The study we’re exploring today could mark the first in a series of critical blows about to hit the low carb and keto communities. Due to the size of the cohorts in the experiments reviewed and due to the length of time the individuals were followed, the results are particularly convincing.
Study author Maciej Banach, of the Medical University of Lodz, Poland, said: “We found that people who consumed a low carbohydrate diet were at greater risk of premature death. Risks were also increased for individual causes of death including coronary heart disease, stroke, and cancer. These diets should be avoided.”
The researchers looked at the relationship between low carbohydrate diets and all-cause mortality, as well as death due to cardiovascular disease, cerebrovascular disease (e.g. stroke), and cancer. Their research subjects were part of a large and nationally representative cohort of 24,825 Americans, and study data was collected from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), covering the years 1999–2010. The mean age of participants was 47.6 years old, and the cohort was 48.6 percent men and 51.4 percent women.
Participants who had the lowest carbohydrate intake had a 32 percent higher risk of all-cause mortality over an average of 6.4 years follow-up, while the risk of mortality due to cardiovascular disease, cerebrovascular disease, and cancer increased by 50 percent, 51 percent, and 35 percent, respectively.
The researchers then performed a meta-analysis using seven prospective cohort studies. The meta-analysis validated the scientists’ own findings, and taken together included 447,506 participants.
“We showed that subjects in the top quartile (those with the lowest intake of carbohydrate) had the highest risk of total mortality,” the researchers said. Additionally, they found a significant link between low carbohydrate/high protein diets and cancer mortality. The research team notes that further studies will clarify the mechanisms behind these associations.
The take-home message: Unless you have a particular medical condition that has evidence-based and well-documented reasons for following a long-term low carbohydrate diet, it is best to avoid low carb and ketogenic diets altogether. Stick with balanced diets rich in healthy carbs, like whole grain breads, buckwheat porridge, sweet potatoes and yams, and blueberries — to name just a few.
Low carb diets have been around for quite a long time, and the first formulations were also linked to health and weight loss. Here are some of the key players that have contributed to our long-standing obsession with low carb diets (an obsession that may be on its way out):
1863–1869: William Banting promotes a low carb diet for weight loss and health, based on his own success losing weight.
1921: Low carbohydrate diets are used to treat paediatric epilepsy. These diets can still be used today for some children who do not respond to medication, but in most cases medication is preferred.
1927: Explorer and ethnologist Vilhjalmur Stefansson promotes an Inuit diet, based on the diets of Inuits in Iceland and Canada. In today’s terms, we would consider this a “zerocarb” or “extreme keto” approach.
1935: Though suffering from a serious lack of evidence, the alkaline diet is all the rage. Many carbs and starchy foods are thought to be “acid forming,” and must therefore be avoided.
1967: The Stillman diet is created by Dr. Irwin Maxwell Stillman. It is a kind of “proto-Atkins diet,” with a focus on low carb and high protein ketogenic eating. The Stillman diet promotes six small meals a day.
1972: Dr. Robert C. Atkins publishes “Dr. Atkins’ New Diet Revolution,” kicking off the very popular Atkins diet trend. Robert Atkins is said to have died from a fall that occurred nine days prior to his death (at the age of 72), but a medical report showed that he had clear signs of having suffered a history of heart attacks, congestive heart failure, and high blood pressure.
1975: Walter L. Voegtlin publishes “The Stone Age Diet.” The advice is to “eat like a caveman” — a diet high in meat and seafood; with moderate fruit and vegetable intake; and very low or no grains, dairy, or added sugar or salt.
1985: Stanley Boyd Eaton and Melvin Konner publish a paper called “Paleolithic Nutrition,” which supports Voegtlin’s Stone Age diet. 2002: The Stone Age diet makes a comeback in the form of “The Paleo Diet” by Loren Cordain, founder of the Paleo Movement.
2003: Dr. Arthur Agatston publishes “The South Beach Diet.” The focus is on foods with a low glycemic index (GI) and low glycemic load (GL).
2015: Dr. Michael Mosley publishes “The 8-Week Blood Sugar Diet.” It’s a low carb, Mediterranean style diet that includes optional intermittent fasting and ultra low calorie options. The blood sugar diet is promoted for those at risk of developing Type 2 diabetes or for those who have already been diagnosed with diabetes or metabolic syndrome.
Ketogenic diets regain popularity and are marketed for weight loss purposes. The trend continues to this day.
This timeline has been adapted from the Diatetically Speaking website by Maeve Hanan.
by Kristen Hovet
Originally published at www.brigidmag.com on October 31, 2018.