Thursday, November 09, 2006

Study: Long-Term Heart Health Issues With Low-Carb Diets Unfounded

Dr. Frank Hu releases the most favorable low-carb study to date

What I am about to share with you will change the way you look at diet and health forever. Or at least it should. When you buck the trend of conventional wisdom, as so many of us who are on a low-carbohydrate program have, then you are bound to upset the very foundation of health and nutrition that those in authority hold so near and dear to their hearts. But science moves forward to create paradigm shifts in the way we think. Today we see one such example of this.

If you are on a low-carb diet, then you have probably run into this before.

"The Atkins Diet is dangerous for your heart!"

"If you eat all that fat on low-carb, you'll have a heart attack!"

"Who cares about your weight loss, you're destroying your health!"

For those of us on the low-carb lifestyle, hearing statements like this has become just another one of the many challenges we face while on the journey to attaining amazing weight loss success and vastly improved health. After losing nearly 200 pounds on the Atkins diet in 2004 and keeping it off ever since, incredibly I STILL have people challenging me to this very day about the "dangers" of eating low-carb because of the alleged health problems it is supposed to induce. My question to these people is this: WHEN am I supposed to have these, hmmmm?

More than any other comments which have been made to me about livin' la vida low-carb, there is one that rises above all the rest especially in the context of debating the health claims that we low-carbers make about this way of eating.

"There have been no long-term studies showing low-carb is safe!"

Ah, this has been the good ole reliable defense that so many opponents of low-carb diets have thrown out in the arena of ideas to silence talk about low-carb. But now they're going to have to come up with another excuse because this Washington Post story highlights a bombshell long-term study that quite literally vindicates all of us who have made low-carb living our permanent lifestyle change.

Tom Halton, a former doctoral student in the Department of Nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health, along with direction from lead researcher and associate professor of nutrition and epidemiology Dr. Frank Hu, conducted a 20-year study on the heart health effects of low-carb diet programs such as the Atkins diet. This is the first such study on the long-term effects of low-carbohydrate diets to be released to the public and it is quite revealing.

The research team observed information from the past two decades of 82,802 women participating in the Nurses' Health Study which began in 1976 and tracked their diet and health with periodic questionairres. The researchers tabulated each woman's overall diet score based on the amount of fat, protein, and carbohydrates they consumed as a percentage of their total caloric intake.

Scores ranged from 0 to 30, with 0 indicating low-fat, low-protein, but very high-carb while 30 was designated for high-fat, high-protein, and very low-carb. The lower the number meant the study subject was following a low-fat diet and was labeled with "low-fat-diet score." Conversely the higher the number translated into the study participant being on a low-carb diet and the score was described as the "low-carbohydrate-diet score."

Halton wanted an even further breakdown of the low-carbohydrate-diet score, so he split them into two subgroups:

1. Carbohydrate/animal protein/animal fat intake
2. Carbohydrate/vegetable protein/vegetable fat intake

Over the 20-year study, the researchers found a little more than 2 percent of the study participants (1,994) had documented cases of coronary heart disease. However, the most amazing statistic among those who develped heart disease was the fact that the low-carbohydrate diet score participants were not a major part of those numbers.

In fact, Halton had fully expected the risk of heart disease to go up among those who ate the low-carb/high-fat diet, but...

“It didn’t, which was a little eye-opening,” he said.

Additionally, none of the scores were manipulated or modified to account for physical activity levels, body-mass index, or the presence or absence of high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or diabetes. Even with these conditions present, the low-carbohydrate diet score group did not have an increased risk for coronary heart disease.

Interestingly, Halton and his associates said neither the total amount of fat nor the total amount of carbohydrates increased the risk of coronary heart disease. But, they did notice the kind of fat and carbs can certainly be better for you.

For example, vegetable fat consumption led to a REDUCED risk of heart disease while excessive refined carbohydrate consumption typical of a low-fat diet was the STRONG culprit in those who did develop heart problems. The researchers believe it was the high glycemic load of foods like refined sugars and carbohydrates consumed by the low-fat diet score group that quickly elevated their blood sugar levels and actually led to a DOUBLING of their risk of cardiovascular problems.

The American low-fat diet movement for the past three decades is one of the major reasons why the rate of heart disease among this group has specifically skyrocketed, Halton revealed.

"The way Americans are going low-fat is very unhealthy," he told Reuters. "They have a very high glycemic load. They're taking sugar. They're taking white bread. They're taking white rice and pasta. That certainly isn't the answer."

Noteworthy, too, was the conclusion by the researchers that when vegetable sources for both fat and protein were selected instead of animal sources, those in the low-carbohydrate-diet score group experienced another 30 percent LOWER risk of coronary heart disease.

"They had a 30 percent reduction in the risk of heart disease over 20 years, which I find shocking," Halton said.

Halton said this study should ease the concerns of those who are worried that low-carb diets are increasing the risks for heart disease because the evidence shows they are no worse than the low-fat diets.

"This study suggests that neither a low-fat dietary pattern nor a typical low-carbohydrate dietary pattern is ideal with regards to risk of CHD; both have similar risks. However, if a diet moderately lower in carbohydrates is followed, with a focus on vegetable sources of fat and protein, there may be a benefit for heart disease."

On the question that people will have about the gender of the study participants all being female, Halton contends "the pathology of heart disease is not all that different in men and women" so it is not a concern to him.

The study, paid for by the National Institutes of Health, appears in the November 9, 2006, issue of The New England Journal of Medicine.

What an amazing study, huh? After all these years of pontificating by the low-fat diet activists that they have the far superior and most healthy way of eating, FINALLY we have that coveted LONG-TERM study that they've been taunting low-carbers to show them. Well, here it is low-fatties! What do you have to say for yourselves now?

My goal all along has never been to say low-fat is wrong and low-carb is right, but to simply allow people to have all the evidence so they can make up their minds which one they want to do for the sake of their own weight and health. Too often we have heard from anti-low-carb voices when they portend low-carb might be good for weight loss, but you'll be harming your health in the process. Baloney! We now know those concerns were greatly exaggerated and quite possibly turned off millions of would-be low-carb success stories from even trying this amazingly healthy diet all because of needless fearmongering.

I think it's interesting what Dr. Hu said regarding Halton's study because it illustrates just how prevailing the stereotype of the Atkins/low-carb diet approach has become, even seeping into the mindset of those working in research laboratories.

"This study doesn't mean that you should load your plate with steak and bacon," he remarked.

Hmmm, I wonder what gives him the idea that eating a low-carbohydrate diet is about loading up on animal foods like steak and bacon at every meal? Could it be because that's been the most oft-repeated LIE spread by those in the media and the so-called health "experts" about the low-carb lifestyle since it rose to widespread popularity? Anyone who has read any of the many books about low-carb, including Dr. Atkins New Diet Revolution, knows it is so much more than meat.

Those of us in the real world of livin' la vida low-carb know that we can eat a very flavorful variety of not just meats, but cheese, eggs, low-glycemic fruits, and non-starchy vegetables. See for yourself in a recent sample week's worth of my low-carb menu. This is just another perversion of the reality of low-carb living.

Check this out, though! Dr. Hu said even if people on a low-carb diet do eat more animal-based sources of fat and protein, he concluded "the adverse effects of animal products might be counterbalanced by reducing refined carbohydrates."

Holy cow, did you see that? This highly-respected Harvard professor just said there is nothing wrong with eating animal products as part of a healthy diet if combined with a low-refined-carb diet. Is this the beginning of the rebirth of a dietary revolution here people? Studies like this are exactly why I keep telling people to just ignore those who seek to tear them down just because they are livin' la vida low-carb. Keep smiling, doing what you know you are supposed to do, and one day YOU will have the last laugh. Science is catching up to us and fast!

Even still, not everyone was thrilled about this study.

"I worry this will confuse people and potentially mislead them to think that low-fat diets don't decrease your risk of heart disease, because they do," retorted low-fat diet guru Dr. Dean Ornish, who I recently interviewed at my "Livin' La Vida Low-Carb" blog.

Okay, my response to that is "so what!" Dr. Ornish. There is no confusion or misleading going on here with this study. If people want to eat a low-fat diet for the sake of their heart health, then this study changes nothing about that. But what we do see in this study is that people eating a low-carb diet can and will experience the same if not BETTER heart health benefits than the highly-touted low-fat diet boasts. This is why the dietary recommendations by health groups such as the USDA and the FDA are becoming more and more irrelevant.

Dr. Ornish was quick to point out that the results of this study does not mean the Atkins diet should come back.

For one thing, Dr. Ornish, the Atkins diet never went away in the first place. I started on it in the year of the supposed decline in 2004 and I'm STILL doing it today. The only thing that went away about low-carb was all the obnoxious media hype and hoopla. Yet they still talk about it in derogatory ways (in just the past week, we have seen this and this), so I suppose it has never left us really.

But more directly on the point of having people try Atkins for their health, why the heck not, Dr. Ornish? If the age-old question of "Do low-carb diets increase the risk of heart disease?" has now been answered with a vehement NO, then what is holding people back from trying it NOW? If we are all in this debate of ideas over diet, nutrition, and health to genuinely help people find a nutritional approach that will make them become fit and trim while improving their health, then who in their right mind would stand in the way of ANYONE wanting to start livin' la vida low-carb?

You have to ask yourself one question if you oppose low-carb diets in the face of this new evidence: Are the tens of millions of people who are suffering from obesity and heart-related problems in America today worth sacrificing at the altar of your outdated low-fat dogma? What harm is going to come to those who make this their permanent diet for life? It's certainly NOT coronary heart disease as has been previously and erroneously stated.

If you share my belief that there is no such thing as a monopoly on what works for people regarding weight loss and improving health, then I encourage you to tell people about this study regardless of how you feel about low-carb diets because people deserve to hear the truth. Should you choose to sweep this latest evidence underneath the carpet of your belief system, then you are robbing those who rely on you to keep them informed of the latest developments that could help them. Don't be surprised if they stop trusting you, though, when they come across this information on their own someday. When the cat is out of the bag, then your credibility will be out the window!

Halton says he is ready for the darts that will be hurled at him because of this study because he knows it "goes against a lot of what people think is common wisdom for nutrition."

Ya think? This isn't just some passing headline news that's here today, gone tomorrow. The ramifications of a long-term study like this putting low-carb in a favorable light has the potential to unravel a lot of the dietary garbage science we have put up with for far too long. Government and health leaders need to take notice of this study and broadcast it to every man, woman and child in the United States of America. This isn't a game, it's the future of this country.

Will we continue to wallow in the obselete theories of our past which have been the foundation of what we believe? Or do we learn from our mistakes, admit we were wrong, and begin moving forward with educating the public that there are other ways to bring about improvements in weight and health? That's the crossroads we stand at as we knock on the door of 2007.

You can e-mail Dr. Frank Hu about this study at

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Blogger Jake Silver said...

I'm very happy about this study. I think there is MisConception about Atkins and SouthBeach... people don't understand that you end up eating lots of veggies and fruits anyway. Everyone thinks Atkins is just bacon and eggs all the time which is such nonsense. And Low-Carb adherents sometimes think that all "Low-Fat" people embrace white bread and pasta.

I eat mostly veggie sources of protein like nuts and beans and soy and "fake meat" but I also eat a bit of seafood and a bit of lean chicken now and again.

Lots of veggies and a few servings of fruit per day.

And when I do eat starchier carbs it's things like oatmeal or whole grain bread and pasta. And definitely not as a staple.

Anyone doing Low Carb the way that you advocate is going to be healthy, wealthy and wise. Your Blog is, as always, excellent.

11/09/2006 3:29 PM  
Blogger Calianna said...

Well, it's about time there was a long term study showing that low-carb isn't harmful, after all!

And quite frankly, even if the study had shown deadly consequences to low carb, I would have stuck with it anyway, especially given that I feel so much better on low carb, and feel awful (as well as gain weight rapidly) on low fat.

11/09/2006 6:48 PM  
Blogger Science4u1959 said...

So much for the "essential carbohydrates" crap!

No long-term evidence that low-carb is healthy? How about a few MILLION years of proof?

A low-carb, omnivorous diet is what humanity grew up, evolved and thrived on. There's plenty of conclusive evidence for that.

Fats (oh evil of evils), together with adequate and complete proteins, are the most valuable nutrients known to man. Period.

11/09/2006 9:10 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was searching the web for long-term studies on low carb diets and came upon this blog entry. As a former low carb omnivore who became a vegetarian a few years ago (and trying to get back to low carbing again, as a vegetarian) I was very glad to read this. One thing that's always bothered me is the perceived polar oppositions between vegetarian and low carb diets. Just as it's a total misconception that low carbing is all about meat and saturated fats, it's also a misconception that vegetarian diets are all about high-carb and low fat. The two CAN be combined in a healthy way and this study is one of many that attest to that.

Great blog entry!


6/21/2008 10:10 AM  
Blogger Jimmy Moore said...

THANKS for your open minded attitude, Tam! It's great to see someone who understands this isn't a contest to see who's better, but rather an attempt to get people to care about their health.

6/21/2008 10:13 AM  

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