The headline says it all: “Low carbohydrate diets are unsafe and should be
According to new research from Poland, following a low-carb diet raises your risk of cancer, heart disease, and stroke. Plus, a low-carb lifestyle boosts your risk of an early death by almost a third!
Really? Or is this another case of medical fear-mongering?
Before you start adding mounds of pasta back into your diet, here’s what you need to know.
It Looks Like Someone’s Jumping to Conclusions
Just because two things exist side by side, it’s not proof one causes the other. Scientists put it this way: “Correlation is not causation.”
It’s easy to jump to conclusions when two things seem to pop up together consistently. For example, look at my recent message on osteoporosis and Alzheimer’s disease.
Studies show that people with osteoporosis are more likely to develop Alzheimer’s. But the best research suggests it’s not because osteoporosis leads to Alzheimer’s. It’s more likely they have common risk factors.
This new study only found that low-carb diets and a higher risk of certain health issues exist side by side. It doesn’t prove the one causes the other.
In fact, the results of this study are way out of line with what its own authors found in other studies.
Violating the Cardinal Rule of Proof
The Polish study’s authors reviewed seven similar studies. And the numbers they found weren’t even close to theirs.
The risk of early death in the other studies was half their finding. The heart disease risk in the other studies was less than a third. And the cancer risk was below 25% of their number.
In other words, seven other studies found a correlation… but it was just a fraction of the new study’s results.
Another number that didn’t match up? Follow-up. The other seven studies average follow-up was 15.6 years. The new study had an average follow-up of just 6.4 years. Getting such highly inflated results in such a short time should set off alarm bells.
The press release for this new study may contain its own explanation for the alarming results.
Not All Low-Carb Diets Are Healthy
General dietary descriptions can be misleading. For instance, years ago, I worked with a young vegetarian lady. She knew vegetarians lived longer than average, and was convinced she should avoid meat.
But her “vegetarian” diet consisted largely of fast-food burgers (without the beef patty) with French fries… meatless pizza… and other questionable food choices. Technically, she was a vegetarian, but her diet was anything but healthy.
A low-carb diet can be the same. If you replace complex carbs with red meat and saturated fat, you’re not doing yourself any favors. Even though you’re technically following a low-carb diet.
And the new study’s authors seem to admit this when they point out, “The reduced intake of fiber and fruits and increased intake of animal protein, cholesterol, and saturated fat with these diets may play a role. Differences in minerals, vitamins and phytochemicals might also be involved.”
In other words, replacing complex carbs – like flour, pasta, and potatoes – with red meat and saturated fat may not be your best choice.
A healthy low-carb diet is low in complex carbs… but rich in fruits and vegetables. It appears the Polish study is really pointing out that eating an unhealthy diet may be linked to poor health.
A 2018 study published by The Lancet came to exactly that conclusion. In this study, people who substituted red meat and fat for carbs had a higher risk of early death. But those who swapped out complex carbs for fruits and veggies lowered their risk.
There Is Such a Thing as a Healthy Low-Carb Lifestyle
A 2014 study in the Annals of Internal Medicine compared a low-fat diet to a low-carb diet. After a year, volunteers on the low-carb diet had lost 7.7 pounds more than the low-fat group. The low-carb group also saw a bigger drop in blood fats linked to heart disease.
In 2015, an international team of doctors recommended a low-carb diet to help control Type II diabetes.
The doctors (more than two dozen of them!) pointed out a low-carb diet beats low-fat for controlling blood sugar, weight loss, and more. In fact, the group found twelve points in favor of a low-carb diet.
And a 20-year-long study from Harvard School of Public Health found no link between low-carb diets and higher heart disease risk. But the study did find replacing complex carbs with plant foods lowered the risk of heart disease.
Should You Go Low-Fat? The Bottom Line
Complex carbohydrates are not your friends. A moderate amount of whole grains isn’t bad. But most products today are “made with whole grains” – or “contain whole grains.” Which means you’re really getting mostly processed carbs.
And processed carbs lead to blood sugar spikes… which can lead to diabetes.
High-carb diets are also linked to obesity, which can cause a whole laundry list of health problems. Like heart disease, arthritis, and stroke.
A low-carb lifestyle beats low-fat hands down in battling obesity, maintaining lean muscle mass, easing blood fat issues, defeating diabetes, and more. Just be smart about it.
Replace complex carbs with veggies – especially dark and brightly colored options. Red peppers are loaded with fiber and vitamin A. Dark green leafy vegetables deliver lutein, vitamin K, and essential minerals. Broccoli is a rich source of sulforaphanes – plant compounds that battle cancer.
Skinless, free-range poultry… grass-fed beef… and wild-caught fish are great sources of protein – along with other nutrients missing from their factory-farmed counterparts.
And, of course, eat a moderate amount of fruits and nuts.
Can a low-carb diet cause an early death? If you replace the carbs with factory-farmed bacon and saturated fats, probably. But if you eat a diet rich in gunpowder, you chance the same effect.
Any time you add too much of a good thing, you risk hurting your health.
You need protein. You need fats. Even saturated fats. But you don’t need too much of them.
A low-carb lifestyle that includes plenty of fruits and veggies – only a moderate amount of protein and dietary fats – isn’t likely to boost your risk of an early death. In fact, as the folks at Harvard found, it may do just the opposite.
About the Author: Jason Kennedy is a celebrated investigative health writer and the author of The X-Factor Revolution and Beyond the Blue Zone. With over 10 years of experience working with today’s leading alternative and anti-aging doctors, Jason shares his insider status and access to the latest breakthroughs with thousands of readers from around world.
“Low carbohydrate diets are unsafe and should be avoided,” European Society of Cardiology. Aug 28, 2018.
Seidelmann, S.B., et al, “Dietary carbohydrate intake and mortality: a prospective cohort study and meta-analysis,” The Lancet Public Health. Published Online Aug 16, 2018.
“Comparing Low-Fat and Low-Carbohydrate Diets,” Ann Intern Med. 2014; 161(5): I-22.
Feinman, R.D., et al, “Dietary carbohydrate restriction as the first approach in diabetes management: Critical review and evidence base,” Nutrition. 2015; 13: 1–13.
“20-year Study Finds No Association Between Low-carb Diets And Risk Of Coronary Heart Disease,” Science Daily. Nov 9, 2006.
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