We’ve long advocated a healthy controlled carbohydrate diet as a way of preventing or treating diabetes, but the medical establishment has been slow to catch on. And while much research has been done on low-carbohydrate diets and weight loss, until now the long-term outcomes have not been determined, although this is also true of low-fat diets as well.
Recently, researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health evaluated data on over 80,000 women participating in the famed Nurses Health Study. They used validated food-frequency questionnaires that were collected every four years from 1980 to 1998, and assigned each participant a score (from 0-30), which they called the “low-carbohydrate diet score.” The higher you scored on a scale of 0-30, the closer you followed a low-carbohydrate dieting style.
The researchers compared data from those who scored the highest 10 % (low carbohydrate diet) to those who scored in the lowest 10% (high carbohydrate diets) and found no appreciable difference in the risk for diabetes over the course of a twenty-year follow-up period. Not only did a low-carbohydrate diet of any composition not increase the risk for diabetes—those following a low-carbohydrate diet with a high percentage of vegetables and vegetable fat actually had a decreased risk.
In a previous study, the researchers had found that those with the highest low-carbohydrate diet scores had no more risk for heart disease than those with the lowest scores. In that study as well, a low-carbohydrate diet with a high percentage of vegetables and vegetable fat moderately reduced the risk of coronary heart disease.
In the first study, total carbohydrate intake was associated with a moderately increased risk of coronary heart disease, as well as in the second study.
A higher glycemic load was bad news in both studies. In the first, it was strongly associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease in the first study, and in the second, it was strongly associated with an increased risk of diabetes. There was an inverse relationship between vegetable fat consumption and the risk of either disease. When vegetable sources of fat and protein were chosen, the low-carbohydrate-diet score was actually associated with a moderately lower risk of coronary heart disease. Total dietary fat intake was not associated with an increased risk for either disease. And previous research by the same scientists found that a moderately high protein intake was actually associated with a slightly reduced risk of coronary heart disease!
This study is interesting in that it shows that a low-fat diet is no better than a low-carbohydrate diet in preventing type 2 diabetes, and in fact showed that a vegetable-based, low-carbohydrate diet actually showed a protective effect. “I was also surprised that total carbohydrate consumption was associated with type 2 diabetes, and that the relative risk for the glycemic load was so high,” lead researcher Thomas Halton, D. Sci, told HealthDay Reporter.
These data add to the expanding library of research that supports the significant health benefits (and safety!) of the Atkins Nutritional Approach™: a low-glycemic-load diet with adequate protein, high in fiber-rich foods such as vegetables and low-glycemic fruits, and adequate good fats and some whole grains in lifetime maintenance