We finally have some real answers to how the Atkins-style high animal protein/low carb diets effect our health in the long term. This took so long because, unfortunately, to find out how diets effect our health 20 years down the road, we actually have to wait 20 years for the study to be finished. I’m sure some hotshot young scientist will find a way around that soon, for now we have to do this the old-fashioned way.
This research was published in the September 7 issue of Annals of Internal Medicine. Catchy title, huh? (Yes, I have a preteen in the house.) Anyway, two large studies, spanning from 20 to 26 years and including both men and women, came to the same conclusion:
Animal-based, low-carbohydrate diets were associated with a 23% increased risk of death from all causes, a 14% increased risk of death from cardiovascular causes, and a 28% higher risk of death from cancer. Yikes.
Happy cows, indeed. Not to mention the happy pigs. And some sad carnivores. I think that is why these studies did not get more attention in the mainstream press – we all want to think we can have bacon every day and still be healthy. 😉
Now, for the sunny side:
Diets that were high in plant proteins, such as those found in nuts, seeds, beans, vegetables and soy but still defined as “low-carb” were associated with a 20% reduction in all cause mortality, and 23% reduced rate of death from cardiovascular causes.
This kind of low-carb is really low-sugar, low refined, processed grains carbs. Not low veggies, fruit and reasonable amounts of whole grain carbs.
Over 120,000 people were included in these studies, and all were free of heart disease, diabetes and cancer at the start of the study. Information about their diets was gathered, analyzed and put into a category of high carb, low carb/animal protein based, or low-carb/vegetable protein based. Results for the higher-carb diets will hopefully be published soon. They had a slightly lower rate of all-cause mortality, but I need more details.
One important thing to remember: when these researchers use the term “low-carb” they mean carbs from added sugars, high-fructose corn syrup, refined white flour, etc. They look at percentage of calories from each category (carb, protein, fat) rather than the total amount of food. Since vegetables have so few calories, even eating a lot of them makes up a smaller percentage of the total calories consumed. So while called “low carb,” this diet pattern really does consist of a lot of what we would call “carbs.” Pastry, on the other hand, can become a large percentage of total calories consumed pretty quickly.
A diet low in refined carbs with most of the protein coming from plant sources, and thus a lot of the fat coming from plant sources, can look a lot like the super-healthful Mediterranean Diet. Or the super-healthful Okinawa/Japanese diet.
I will go into more detail on how to eat this way in my next post. For now, try a vegetarian meal this week, using lentils or beans for protein. Cows everywhere will thank you.