Type 2 diabetes and heart disease linked to carbohydrates rather than fat

Mon, 24 Nov 2014
A high-carb diet is more harmful to humans than a high-fat one, new research suggests.

The study

The study, conducted at The Ohio State University and published in PLOS ONE, suggests that doubling the amount of saturated fat in the diet has no effect on fat levels in the blood. Increasing carbohydrates, on the other hand, raised levels of Palmitoleic acid, a fatty acid associated with heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

The study was conducted by feeding participants six three-week diets. Carbohydrates were steadily increased and fat content was steadily reduced. Calories and protein remained the same throughout.

The researchers discovered that levels of Palmitoleic acid, which is associated with cardiovascular (heart) disease and type 2 diabetes, increased as carbohydrates were reintroduced to the diet.

How do the findings compare to traditional dietary recommendations?

Jeff Volek, a professor of human sciences of Ohio State University and lead author of the study, said that the result "Challenges the conventional wisdom that has demonised saturated fat and extends our knowledge of why dietary saturated fat doesn't correlate with disease.

"When you consume a very low-carb diet your body preferentially burns saturated fat. We had people eat two times more saturated fat than they had been eating before entering the study, yet when we measured saturated fat in their blood, it went down in the majority of people. Other traditional risk markers improved as well."

The findings challenge the traditional recommendations (including those of the National Health Service) that intake of saturated fats should be as low as possible. In fact, it may be safe to eat as much as three times the maximum amount recommended by the NHS, as long as healthy sources of fat are chosen and carbohydrate intake is reduced.

Good and bad sources of saturated fat

Some sources of saturated fat are much better than others. Good sources include:
  • Full-fat yoghurt
  • Natural cheeses
  • Non-processed meats
Bad sources of saturated fat tend to be those that also contain carbohydrates, such as:
  • Fries, or chips
  • Crisps
  • Pastries
  • Biscuits
Processed meats are also a poor source of saturated fats.

Low-carb and diabetes

Many people with diabetes have found that a low-carb diet improves their blood glucose management. Despite the diet's popularity, it has often been met with resistance by healthcare professionals.

Earlier this year, however, Dr. David Unwin studied the effects of low-carb diets in people with diabetes, finding that it generally improved HbA1c levels in people with type 2 diabetes. The results of the study were published in Practical Diabetes.

November saw the release of Reverse Your Diabetes: The Step-by-Step Plan to Take Control of Type 2 Diabetes, written by Dr. David Cavan, Director of Policy and Programmes for the International Diabetes Federation. Dr. Cavan recommends a low-carb, high-fat diet, arguing that fat has gained an excessively bad reputation in recent years. Reducing the amount of carbohydrate in your diet, he suggests, can actually help to reverse type 2 diabetes.

These publications indicate that the reputation of the low-carb diet is growing consistently among medical professionals.
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