(DGIwire) — High-protein, low-carb diets are often used for weight loss. Proponents often claim a metabolic advantage over an equivalent high-carb, low fat diet. Others claim that Atkins-style diets contain excess protein and fat, which have an adverse effect on your health. Who is right?
Two studies, which looked at high-protein, low-carb diets and compared them to a low fat and a Mediterranean type diet present some interesting but perhaps conflicting results when it comes to your health.
The first study, which was funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), seemed to provide some evidence of a low-carbohydrate metabolic advantage. The participants ate either a low-carb, low fat or a low-glycemic diet. All three contained the same amount of calories but differed in their protein, carbohydrate and fat content. Those eating the low-carb version burned about 350 more calories per day when compared to the low-fat group (roughly equal to an hour of moderate physical activity) and 150 more calories than the low-glycemic (Mediterranean) group.
The low-fat diet had the worst effects on metabolic syndrome, which consists of a group of heart disease risk factors. Low-fat diets also had adverse effects on insulin sensitivity, triglyceride levels and good cholesterol levels. However, the of utmost interest and contrary to what would be considered a “healthy” diet—the low-carb diet created a higher level of stress hormones and inflammation that could increase the risk of heart disease.
The second study published in the British Medical Journal said that women who regularly ate a low-carb, high protein diet had a 28% greater risk of cardiovascular disease (such as heart disease and stroke) than those who did not.
Although studies on the long-term consequences of these diets on cardiovascular health have had inconsistent results, this study looked at almost 44,000 Swedish women aged between 30 and 49 years from 1991-92. After adjusting for variables, the researchers established a dietary scoring system (LCHP) for the macronutrient ratio of each participant’s diet. The results showed that the incidence of cardiovascular outcomes increased in relation to an increasing LCHP score (lower carb, higher protein).
“When you eat a varied diet built around the type of natural foods we are physiologically adapted to eat, things seem to take care of themselves and there is no need to manage macronutrient content. Low-fat diets are often high in concentrated carbohydrates like many processed, refined man-made foods. Low-carb diets are often lacking in essential plant derived nutrients, namely fruits. Eating a wide variety whole foods, which are naturally nutrient dense on a per calorie basis, will deliver optimal metabolism. More importantly, this naturally based food program will support health as well as the energy we are all seeking for our work days and other activities,” according to Dian Griesel, Ph.D. and Tom Griesel, co-authors of TurboCharged: Accelerate Your Fat Burning Metabolism, Get Lean Fast and Leave Diet and Exercise Rules in the Dust.
Diets focusing on certain food groups or eliminating others are often imbalanced. The healthiest populations in the world have one thing in common, which is the consumption of whole foods and the absence of refined and processed foods. Most of the time these groups still eat meat or fish but their diet is predominantly built around plant-based choices.
Tom Griesel adds, “The healthiest diet will always contain the largest variety of whole natural foods and the lowest amount of processed foods. There are nutrients found in animal foods that are not found in plant-based foods and there are even more nutrients found in plants that are absent in animal foods. All the evidence points to a mixed diet with a plant slant as being the healthiest option.”