Why You May Want to Reconsider That Low-Carb Diet

Aug 21, 2018 at 1:55 p.m. ET
Table topped with a variety of high-carb foods
Image: Fcafotodigital/Getty Images.

Low-carb diets are nothing new. In fact, the first low-carb diet was peddled as far back as the 1800s by a 66-year-old undertaker named William Banting. However, despite having a long and varied reputation, a new study suggests that low-carb diets may actually be detrimental to your health — as cutting carbohydrates can cut years off your life.

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The research, published in The Lancet Public Health, followed 15,400 adults for 25 years and found that those who ate a moderate number of carbs (meaning they got 50 to 55 percent of their energy from carbohydrates) had the lowest risk of mortality, while those who got less than 40 percent of their energy from carbs had the highest risk of mortality. 

In fact, the former group lived — on average — four years longer.

Lead researcher Dr. Sara Seidelmann told BBC the reason for this discrepancy could be due to the fact that low-carb dieters generally rely on animal-based products.

"Low-carb diets that replace carbohydrates with protein or fat are gaining widespread popularity as a health and weight-loss strategy," she told the BBC. "However, our data suggests that animal-based low carbohydrate diets, which are prevalent in North America and Europe, might be associated with shorter overall life span," though this is speculative (and was not specifically analyzed as part of the study).

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But as usual, before going ahead and radically changing your eating habits based on one study, we should all pay attention to some of the potential limitations of the research. For starters, the authors note that the data were self-reported and recorded, all information is observational (and not the result of cause and effect) and is subject to personal bias and the limitations of the test subject's memory. 

Additionally, since the diets of each participant were only measured twice during the 25-year study period, at the start of the study and again six years later, the data fails to take into account any and all dietary changes that could have occurred over the subsequent 19 years, the authors pointed out.

Limitations aside, this study seems to support the notion that a well-balanced diet is the best diet, so don't give up those potatoes quite yet.

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