If there’s one message that most people get about their diet, it’s to cut back on fat. Too much fat, especially the saturated fat and cholesterol found in animal meat, dairy products and cheese, can clog up arteries and lead to heart disease, stroke and obesity.Low-Carb
But fat may not be only culprit in those unhealthy conditions. In recent years, studies have revealed that cutting back on fat doesn’t always contribute to a lower risk of heart disease or reduced chance of dying early. In fact, some studies show the opposite, that people who eat extremely low amounts of fat tend to die earlier.
The results, say the authors, point to the fact that rather than focusing on fat, health experts should be advising people to lower the amount of carbohydrates they eat. In the study, which involved 135,000 people from 18 different countries, the average diet was made up of 61% carbohydrates, 23% fat and 15% protein. In some countries, like China, south Asia and Africa, however, the amount of carbohydrates in the diet was much higher, at 63% to 67%. More than half of the people in the study consumed high-carbohydrate diets.
That’s because carbohydrates are easily stored as glucose in the body, and they can raise blood sugar levels, contributing to obesity and diabetes — both of which are also risk factors for heart disease.
So why has there been so much focus on fat? The researchers say that the first studies to link fat to heart disease were conducted primarily in North America and Europe, which has the highest consumption of fat worldwide. It’s possible that different diet advice may be needed for different populations. In western cultures, where there is an excess of fat, reducing fat may play a role in lowering heart disease, as long as people aren’t replacing the fat with carbohydrates.
In other parts of the world, where carbohydrates make up a large part of the diet, cutting back on carbs may make more sense than focusing on fat. “Individuals with high carbohydrate intake might benefit from a reduction in carbohydrate intake and an increase in the consumption of fats,” the study authors write.
More study will also be needed to figure out exactly how much fat and how much carbohydrates should be recommended for optimal health. The study did not compare, for example, people who ate low-fat diets to those who ate low-carb diets to see how their diets affected their mortality.