‘Low carb’ diets are a popular way to lose weight, and millions of people have used them to shed some unwanted body fat. These diets go under various names, but essentially they involve cutting right back on starchy foods such as potatoes, bread, rice and cereals and instead eating more protein as a source of calories (as well as fats and oils to varying degrees).

Many health professionals have been uneasy about the possible health effects of these diets over the long term. Now a comprehensive study* suggests their concerns may be justified.

The study followed 43,000 Swedish women for nearly 16 years. At the start, they were aged between 30 and 49. The study looked at what they ate and noted who developed coronary heart disease, stroke or other diseases of the arteries. Researchers were particularly careful to rule out alternative explanations of their findings.

They concluded that reducing carbohydrate intake and increasing protein intake was associated with an increase in diseases of the arteries. A 20 g reduction in daily carbohydrate intake and a 5 g increase in daily protein intake corresponded with a 5% increase in the overall risk of cardiovascular disease.

This may be down to two reasons. People on these diets tended to eat less fruit, vegetables, cereals and legumes, all of which have benefits in reducing heart and blood vessel disease. At the same time, many were eating more red meat, associated with increases in these diseases.

The conclusion is these ‘low carb’ diets may result in short-term weight loss, but continuing with them over the longer term carries a risk.

If you choose to follow a ‘low-carb’ diet for any length of time, try to make sure you are still eating a good range of vegetables, fruit and wholegrains. And think about getting your protein from plenty of sources other than red meat – such as beans, soya, fish, chicken and dairy products.

*Link to the study:  http://www.bmj.com/content/344/bmj.e4026

 

Professor Brian Kirby, Author of How to Live to 110: Your comprehensive guide to a healthy life.

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