Story at a glance

  • Debates on the merits of low-carb versus low-fat diets may be missing the point, according to a new study.
  • Researchers found no difference between people eating low-carb or low-fat diets in terms of their risk of death.
  • Instead, the study found people who tended to consume healthy foods, including whole grains, fruits, vegetables and nuts, regardless of carb or fat content, lived longer.

A new study suggests it’s time you stopped worrying about cutting carbs or limiting the amount of fat in your diet. To live longer, it’s more important to focus on the quality of the foods than the quantity of carbs or fats they contain, according to a study from the JAMA Internal Medicine journal

This means limiting processed carbohydrates, sugar, red meat and processed meats, and emphasizing whole grains, nuts, fruits and vegetables.

In the study, researchers asked more than 37,000 adults in the United States what they ate in the course of a 24-hour period in 1999 then followed them for 15 years. 

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At the end of the study the average age of the participants was 50 years old, and 4,866 of them had died — around 13 percent of the group. Just less than half of those who died succumbed to heart disease (849 people) or cancer (1,068 people), certain types of which have been linked to diet.

Researchers found no difference in the risk of death between people on low-fat versus low-carb diets. Instead, the sources of those carbs or fats was what either risked or helped prevent an early death. 

Low-fat diets full of unhealthy foods such as white bread, processed meats and sugary soda were associated with a 12 percent elevated risk of death, while similarly unhealthy low-carb diets made people 16 percent more likely to die.

People eating low-fat and low-carb diets composed of healthy foods including vegetables, fruits, legumes and whole grains lived longer, enjoying a 27 percent decreased risk of death. 

Low-carb or low-fat diets can be good or bad depending on the foods that go into them, researcher Andrew Mente, who wasn’t involved in the study, told Reuters.

“It’s more about selecting whole natural or minimally-processed foods, regardless of the amount of carbs or fat,” Mente told Reuters. “This would translate into a diet that may include a variety of whole foods in various combinations including fruit, vegetables, legumes, nuts and fish as well as whole fat dairy and unprocessed red meat and poultry.”

Published on Jan 22, 2020