Carbohydrates, the primary source of energy in our diets, have gained significant attention in recent years due to the rising prevalence of obesity. Numerous diets advocating both high and low-carb intakes have emerged, promising rapid weight loss. However, it's essential to consider the impact of carb consumption on overall health and lifespan. This article examines scientific evidence to shed light on the relationship between carb intake and mortality rates.
A study published in The Lancet in 2016 analysed data from the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities (ARIC) study, involving 15,428 adults aged 45-64 years. The study, combined with data from seven other prospective studies, revealed that both low-carb consumption (less than 40% of total calories) and high-carb intakes (greater than 70%) were associated with increased mortality risk after a 25-year follow-up period.
A meta-analysis published in the Clinical Nutrition Journal in 2023, incorporating data from 41 studies, concluded that high carbohydrate intake negatively impacts cardiovascular health, stroke risk, and all-cause mortality.
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Additionally, a Japanese study published in the Science Direct journal in 2021 followed 43,008 men and 50,646 women aged 45-75 years for 16 years. The study found that individuals following a low-carb diet with high animal fat and protein, as well as those with high-carb intake and low animal fat and protein, had a higher risk of mortality. However, individuals on low-carb, high plant-based fat and protein diets exhibited a lower risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD) and total mortality.
The American Heart Association issued a scientific statement comparing popular diets with dietary guidelines for healthy living. They advised against both low protein, low-fat diets high in carbs, and low-carb diets high in animal fats and proteins, as these approaches miss essential and protective nutrients, thereby having negative long-term health outcomes.
The Bottom Line:
- While popular diets have shown fast weight loss, a primary health risk factor, these diets are not sustainable and are not nutritionally adequate.
- As evidenced by scientific studies, both high-carb and low-carb diets have a direct effect on all-cause mortality and CVD mortality.
- Not just carbs but animal protein and fat intake increases the risk further in LCD and is also a contributor to high-carb diets.
- Plant-based proteins and fats seem to be healthier.
Here's What You Should Do:
- Both high-carb diets (greater than 65% of total calories) and low-carb diets (less than 40% of total calories) are detrimental to health and mortality.
- Adequate carbs from whole grains, whole fruits, starchy vegetables and legumes meet the nutritional needs of our body.
- Choose the right quantity and quality of carbs.
- Pack in more plant proteins regularly and choose healthy plant-based fats.
In Indian meals, where carb intake has traditionally been high, a strategy of replacing some carbs with adequate proteins in every meal, along with consuming seasonal whole fruits and vegetables, can effectively nourish and protect against conditions such as CVD, diabetes and obesity.
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About Rupali DattaRupali Datta is a Clinical Nutritionist and has worked in leading corporate hospitals. She has created and lead teams of professionals to deliver clinical solutions for patients across all medical specialties including critical care. She is a member of the Indian Dietetic Association and Indian Association of Parenteral and Enteral Nutrition.