This Harvard study might put an end to the carbohydrates war

Photo: BenGrantham via Flickr

Modern diet science is much more charitable towards carbs than fads of old.  New data assures us that carbohydrates are essential to a balanced diet—even when weight loss is an immediate objective.

But a new study published by Harvard researchers in the JAMA Internal Medicine Journal found that not all carbs are equal.

The study, which featured more than 35,000 American adults aged 20 and older, found that the quality of a food group impacted longevity significantly more than the presence of a food group in a given regimen. Despite past studies, a low-fat diet isn’t indicative of an effective, sustainable diet.

“In this study, overall low-carbohydrate-diet and low-fat-diet scores were not associated with total mortality,” researchers said. “Unhealthy low-carbohydrate-diet and low-fat-diet scores were associated with higher total mortality, whereas healthy low-carbohydrate-diet and low-fat-diet scores were associated with lower total mortality.

“These findings suggest that the associations of low-carbohydrate and low-fat diets with mortality may depend on the quality and food sources of macronutrients.”

Guidelines vs. Objectives

Since the weight loss market is such a lucrative industry, it has been argued by some that companies makes a point to blur the line between personal objectives and dietary guidelines. If someone needs to lose weight for health purposes or even for cosmetic reasons, there are healthy and expedient ways to do so. 

Carbohydrates give us energy. However, f the energy isn’t used after consumption they’re stored in our muscles and liver for later. Eventually, if unused for long enough, they turn into fat. Low-carb diets, if adhered to correctly, promote weight loss by limiting the number of carbs we need to use before the end of this cycle. The method works for about six months but fails to be a sustainable system in the long term.

Relying on meats for energy at the expense of carbs is linked to a higher risk for cancer and early death. Restricting carbohydrates is the quickest way to drop weight as long as you apply this restriction to a considered timeline. The Dietary Guidelines for Americas recommend that carbohydrates make up between 45% to 65% of your daily calories. That’s about 225 grams for women and 325 grams for men.

Unlike previous studies, the researchers not only took the number of carbs into account when surveying longevity but also the source of carbs consumed. This prerequisite provided an important insight into the role balance plays into lifespan and dietary guidelines. When accounting for the total number of person-years (297,768), 4,866 total deaths occurred. Researchers explained that a low-carbohydrate-diet and low-fat-diet scores were not associated with total mortality, but a healthy low-carbohydrate diet and a healthy low-fat diet were associated with lower total mortality.

“Our findings show clearly that the quality rather than the quantity of macronutrients in our diet has an important impact on our health,” said Zhilei Shan, a postdoctoral researcher at Harvard’s Department of Nutrition, in a press release. “The debate on the health consequences of low-fat or low-carbohydrate diets is largely moot unless the food sources of fats or carbohydrates are clearly defined.”

The recommended carb intake can be obtained in three different ways: sugars, starches, and fibers. Each has its own set of health benefits. Fruits, vegetables, milk, grains, seeds, and nuts are a good varied placed to start. When it comes to addressing mortality statistics, there are confounding factors to consider. Carbs, for instance, primarily provide our bodies with energy but if fibers are consumed in your daily carb intake, you lower your risk for cardiovascular disease and type-2 diabetes.

One recent study found that people who ate at least five fruits a day lived roughly three-years longer than those who didn’t. Earlier this week, a new report revealed that habitually consuming skim milk reversed the aging process by an average of four-and-a-half-years.