Harvard Study Questions Safety Of Low-Carb Diet

The low-calorie diet that works the best is the one that you can live with long-term, not just for a short time for quick weight loss, according to the February 2012 issue of Healthbeat published by Harvard Medical School.

In a study published in The New England Journal of Medicine in 2006, Harvard researchers compared four different low-calorie diets (high fat, high protein; high fat, average protein; low fat, high protein; and low fat, average protein) in 811 overweight adults. All the participants lost an average of about 13 pounds in the first six months (about 7% of their initial weight). But they started to regain at the one-year mark. After two years, average weight loss was the same in all groups.

According to the newsletter, an earlier study in The Journal of the American Medical Association suggested that it’s whether you stick with whatever diet you choose that makes the difference. After a year in this separate study, nearly half of the overweight and obese adults assigned to the Atkins diet, the Ornish Diet, Weight Watchers, or the “Zone” diet had dropped out of the study. But those who didn’t lost similar amounts of weight (about 5 to 7 pounds each, on average). People assigned to the Atkins and Ornish diets were more likely to drop out of the study.

The article in Healthbeat notes that diets that are less than 45% carbohydrate or more than 35% protein are hard to follow, and they’re no more effective than other diets. In addition to possibly increasing the risk of heart disease, diets with very low carbohydrate levels may have a negative effect on mood, according to several studies.

People are advised to keep the percentage of their calories from major nutrients within the recommended federal guidelines:

Protein: 10% to 35%
Carbohydrate: 45% to 65%
Fat: 20% to 35%

There have been many trends in diets–low to zero fat, then low to no carbs, no fat and low carb. Now experts believe that some fats are good for the heart. Good fats make the meal more flavorful, appealing, and filling. More people are likely to stick to it for the long-term.

The newsletter states that low-carb diets can produce quick weight loss but there are concerns about their safety in the long-term:

Low-carbohydrate diets tend to cause dehydration. To make up for the lack of carbohydrates in the diet, the body mobilizes its own carbohydrate stores from liver and muscle tissue. In the process, the body also mobilizes water, meaning that the pounds shed are water weight. The result is rapid weight loss, but after a few months, weight loss tends to slow and reverse, just as happens with other diets.

As a long-term diet, The American Heart Association cautions people against the Atkins diet. This diet being too high in saturated fat and protein can be hard on the heart, kidneys, and bones. The lack of fruits and vegetables is undesirable. Eating a variety of fruits and vegetables tends to lower the risk of stroke, dementia, and certain cancers. 

Mediterranean diets tend to have a moderate amount of fat, but much of it comes from healthful monounsaturated fats and unsaturated omega-3 fats. It is high in carbohydrates, but most of the carbs come from unrefined, fiber-rich foods. It is also high in fruits and vegetables, nuts, seeds, and fish, with only modest amounts of meat and cheese.

Mediterranean-style diets emphasize good fats and good carbs along with plenty of fruits and vegetables. It is a better diet to follow long-term.

Some studies have found that by simply switching from the highly polished white rice that is now increasingly consumed in China and India (leading in diabetes) to brown rice, there is reduction in diabetes. Brown rice is good carb and polished white rice is bad carb.

The trick is to find a diet that works for your body, metabolism, and life style. What works for one person may not work for somebody else.

5 thoughts on “Harvard Study Questions Safety Of Low-Carb Diet

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