- New research finds that low-carb and low-fat diets may help people live longer and healthier lives.
- Low-fat and healthy low-carb diets are associated lower rates of heart disease, various cancers, and premature death from all causes.
- Nutrition experts say following simple tips can help you adopt a low-carb or low-fat eating style.
A healthy low-fat or low-carb diet could be the answer to a longer life.
That’s according to a new study published in the Journal of Internal Medicine that examined the effects of low-fat and low-carb diets on disease and mortality in middle-aged and older adults.
In the study, a healthy low-fat diet was characterized by a low intake of saturated fat and high intakes of plant protein and high-quality carbohydrates.
Previous short-term clinical trials have shown health benefits associated with low-fat and low-carb diets for weight loss and heart health.
This new study, however, adds nuance.
While low-fat diets have been associated with fewer deaths from all causes, cardiovascular (heart) disease, and various cancers, the new study’s findings on low-carb diets were slightly more complex.
Overall, low-carb diets (LCDs) and unhealthy low-carb diets were associated with significantly higher total, cardiovascular, and cancer mortality rates.
A healthy low-carb diet was associated with slightly lower death rates, though.
“Our results support the importance of maintaining a healthy low-fat diet with less saturated fat in preventing all-cause and cause-specific mortality among middle-aged and older people,” the study authors say in a press release.
What nutrition experts say
Lon Ben-Asher MS, RD, a nutritionist and educator at Pritikin Longevity Center tells Healthline the quality of food in an individual’s eating plan plays the most significant role in either preventing or reducing the risk of disease or promoting it.
For example, he says if someone chooses to follow an eating pattern consistent with a low-carbohydrate or low-fat diet focused around high-quality carbohydrates and plant protein sources that are full of vitamins and minerals, phytonutrients, and high in dietary fiber, then most evidence-based research supports this as a way of preventing or reducing risk of chronic diseases such as:
He provides the following examples of higher fiber foods including all vegetables but particularly peas, potatoes, beans, lentils and additional legumes, oatmeal, whole grains, and foods low in saturated fats and dietary cholesterol.
“This way of eating supports beneficial bacteria in the gut microbiome, reducing inflammation systemically,” he says.
This is beneficial for brain health and weight control and management as well, adds Ben-Asher.
Kristin Kirkpatrick, MS, RDN, a nutritionist and the author of “Skinny Liver,” says that while she has many patients following moderate- and low-carb dietary patterns who have been successful in management of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) and type 2 diabetes, the greatest importance in constructing any dietary pattern is making sure it is including plenty of vegetables, protein, and low-glycemic fruits.
She says it’s also important to make sure you are getting your fat sources from healthy fats like nuts and olive oil as these tend to be the core of what is consistent in research around healthy diets.
“There is nothing wrong with carbs or fats, but it is the totality of the balance between them and their sources that dictates good health,” says Andy De Santis, RDN, MPH, a nutritionist and the author of The 28-Day DASH Diet Weight-Loss Program.
Grace Derocha, MBA, RD, CDCES, a national spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics tells Healthline a low-carb and low-fat diet could possibly lead to a healthier or longer life for a variety of reasons.
“Since many people have a tendency to overeat carbs and fat, decreasing that amount can help with maintaining weight, in general, which usually leads to healthier outcomes when it comes to chronic conditions, like heart disease, diabetes, and more,” she says.
Tips for making healthy diet changes
Nutrition experts say following these simple tips can help you make sustainable changes to your diet and improve your overall health.
Focus on quality ingredients
“With any dietary pattern, quality is the most important factor,” Kirkpatrick tells Healthline. “For my patients on lower carb eating patterns, I spend a lot of time educating on fiber, lean sources of protein, healthy fats, and non-starchy vegetables,” she explains.
Kirkpatrick says that using cauliflower rice instead of white rice is a great substitution to make.
“It may not happen overnight but in time, most individuals I’ve worked with have preferred the adaptations to the original version,” she says.
“Another example would be, instead of meat for dinner with a side of potatoes, perhaps baked salmon with broccoli,” she says. “These things could easily be made at home or when eating outside the home.”
Aim to eat more whole, plant-based foods
“Food is fuel and provides the necessary macro and micronutrients our bodies need to thrive and flourish,” explains Ben-Asher.
“If we start focusing more on consuming whole, mostly plant-based foods and significantly reduce the calorie-rich, highly processed and loaded in saturated fats, unhealthy oils, sodium, and refined sugars typically found in convenience and readily accessible sources, then we give ourselves the opportunity to promote our health and prevent disease,” he adds.
Choose fish or seafood over red meat
De Santis says if you are typically consuming a large amount of red meat, lamb, or pork, whether at home or at a restaurant, you may want to consider swapping some of that out for fish or seafood.
Switch the sauce
While eating out, you do have control over what gets added to your dish. De Santis suggests, for example, swapping to a tomato sauce instead of a cheese or dairy-based cream sauce when having pasta.
Pack some protein-filled snacks
Kirkpatrick also recommends having some mixed nuts, or a protein bar, to combat hunger while out of the house. This may help prevent grabbing convenience foods and overly processed foods from convenience stores or fast food establishments which can be full of saturated fats, added sugars, salt, and lower-quality carbohydrates.
Use legumes to your advantage
“Legumes like lentils and chickpeas have slightly fewer carbohydrates, but much more protein and fiber than comparable starches and should be incorporated more regularly as they are associated with reduced blood sugar, blood pressure and blood cholesterol levels – all three of which are risk factors for cardiovascular disease,” says De Santis.
Practice portion control
Lastly, no matter what you are eating, De Rocha says “it is important to keep in mind portion control in general, but especially with fat, added sugars and carbs.” Watching your portions can also help with reducing total carbs, she adds.
“People can use a general rule of thumb as eating half of what they used to in regards to pasta, rice and others, while adding more veggies,” she says.
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