The Low-Carb Craze: Are Carbohydrates Killing Us?

A new study seems to suggest that eating more carbs will shorten your life. The Nutrition Diva takes a closer look to find out what we can really take away from this latest research.

Monica Reinagel, MS, LD/N, CNS
Episode #446

Are high fat diets healthier?

This study does not provide support for a high-fat diet, either. Yes, it’s true that those in the highest quintile for fat intake had a lower mortality rate than those in the lowest quintile. However, the average fat intake for this death-defying group was just 35% of calories. The average fat intake for Americans? 34% of calories. If you’re looking for support for a diet that gets 80% or more of calories from fat, you won’t find it here.

See also: Carbs or Fat: Which Is the Body's Preferred Fuel Source?

What’s a quintile, you might be wondering? To divide a group of people into quintiles, you’d line them up from lowest to highest according to any measure. You could line them up by height or by income or by percentage of fat intake. Once they are lined up, you’d simply divide them into five equal groups. So, if you had 100 people, the 20 people who earned the most would be in the top quintile for income and the 20 people who earned the least would be in the lowest quintile. To get a quartile, you divide the group into four equal groups.

The study also looked at the type of fat consumed: saturated, polyunsaturated, or monounsaturated. And the trends confirmed what we’ve been saying for a while now: Saturated fat is not as harmful as we’ve been led to believe, but it doesn’t seem to be as beneficial as unsaturated fatsin particular, the monounsaturated fats that you get from olive oil, canola, and avocado.

One of the good things about this study is that they really cast a wide net: In addition to the usual suspects (overfed North Americans and Europeans), they included people from Africa, South America, Asia, and the Middle East, so a lot of different cultural dietary patterns were represented. They selected countries with high, middle, and low per-capita incomes--and this is important because income has a big impact on both diet and health. They also adjusted the results to account for other variables like smoking, physical activity, education level, waist-to-hip ratio, and total calorie intake.

On the other hand, this is an observational study that relied on self-reported intakes. It doesn’t prove that diets that are higher or lower in carbs or fats cause or prevent death or disease. It simply shows associations between certain nutrient intakes and certain health outcomes.

Translating Data into Dinner

What, then, are we supposed to take away from this study? Contrary to what you may have seen around the Interwebs, it is absolutely not an endorsement of low-carb or high-fat diets, because virtually noone in this study was doing either one. It does make a pretty compelling argument against low-fat diets.

But the really big take home lesson here is something we already knew: Refined carbohydrates should definitely not make up the bulk of your diet.

See also: How to Reduce Your Added Sugar Intake

Are you confused by conflicting nutrition headlines? Trying to figure out how to put together a healthy diet? Maybe I can help. Post your comments or questions below or on the Nutrition Diva Facebook page.  And be sure to subscribe the Nutrition Diva podcast so you won't miss a single episode!


About the Author

Monica Reinagel, MS, LD/N, CNS

Monica Reinagel is a board-certified licensed nutritionist, author, and the creator of one of iTunes' most highly ranked health and fitness podcasts. Her advice is regularly featured on the TODAY show, Dr. Oz, NPR, and in the nation's leading newspapers, magazines, and websites. Do you have a nutrition question? Call the Nutrition Diva listener line at 443-961-6206. Your question could be featured on the show. 

The Quick and Dirty Tips Privacy Notice has been updated to explain how we use cookies, which you accept by continuing to use this website. To withdraw your consent, see Your Choices.