The Heart Health/Low-Carb Diet Connection

Someone eating a salad with everything in it

The pursuit of a healthy heart begins with the proper lifestyle. This means that we should exercise regularly, get plenty of sleep, hydrate, and eat a healthy diet. But when it comes to heart health, what exactly is a healthy diet? For years, whole grains and a low-fat diet has been encouraged by a number of health experts. But recent evidence now suggests that this may not be in our best interest. In fact, a low carbohydrate high fat diet might be the best approach when striving for better cardiovascular wellness. Increasingly, this is what the science is suggesting.

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When it comes to most diets, the majority of us get about half of our calories from carbohydrates. Past evidence has suggested that excessive carbs and fats lead to obesity as well as increased cardiovascular risks. Thus, many support low-carb diets with limited fats when trying to improve our overall heart health. But as with many things, the devil is in the details. Low-carb diets that contain excessive processed carbs may offer little advantage. And low-fat diets may not be as beneficial as previously thought. A low carbohydrate high fat diet may actually be the best for us in the long run. At least that’s what the latest research indicates.

Evidence Supporting a Low Carbohydrate High Fat Diet

In an article recently published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, researchers reported some interesting results. Thye took 164 overweight and obese adults and had then adhere to different diets. In the first part of the study, everyone was one low-carb diets that allowed them to lose about 12% of their weight. Then, the participants were divided in 3 groups for the second part of the study. One group received 20% of their calories from carbohydrates while the other 2 received 40% and 60% respectively. All participants’ diet received 20% of their calories from protein. Thus, the remainder of the diets’ calories were received from fat intake.

After five months of the study, the researchers then looked at a number of findings. The group who was eating low-carb diets had the most impressive results. They saw a 15% drop in their cholesterol lipoproteins and a significant reduction in their triglycerides. They also had a decline in insulin resistance measures by about 15%. In contrast, the those on high-carb diets saw insulin resistance go up by 15%, increasing their diabetic risk. And most surprising was that those who replaced carbs with fatty foods still demonstrated these benefits. This is what led the authors to suggest a low carbohydrate high fat diet might be the best.

Not All Carbs and Fats Are the Same

While the participants on the low carbohydrate high fat diet fared better, it’s worth noting the type of fats they ate. In the study, many enjoyed high saturated fats like butter, red meat, and whole milk in their diets. But these comprised only about a third of their overall fats. Two-thirds of the fatty food intake consisted of unsaturated fats. These types of fats came from fish, nuts, avocados, and olive oil. Thus, while they did consume diets high in fat, most of these were considered healthy fats. These are the fats that have been previously linked to a healthier heart. Therefore, the current research results are not necessarily in conflict with previous findings.

It remains noteworthy, however, that a reduction in carbs and an increase in fats proved to be helpful. Clearly, fats are not the villain, especially when unsaturated fats make up the majority of a diet’s fat content. Likewise, the individuals on low-carb diets mainly removed highly processed carbohydrates from their meals. They continued to include high-fiber carbs as well as vegetables in their daily consumption. With this in mind, any old low carbohydrate high fat diet might not yield the same results. It’s mainly those that remove processed carbs and add unsaturated fats that look to be the most rewarding.

Dietary Effects on Heart Health

The findings in this most recent study certainly suggest that a low carbohydrate high fat diet might reduce vascular risks. Low-carb diets naturally help with weight loss from a calorie perspective, especially if combined with weight loss supplements. It also appears that high-fat diets high in unsaturated fats fail to increase blood lipids. Heart disease and stroke risks are notably linked to high cholesterol, high triglycerides, and increasing weight.  Assuming caloric intake remains reasonable, it would thus make sense that a low carbohydrate high fat diet might work. This is essentially what the results demonstrated in this study.

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At the same time, it is well known that diabetes also increases cardiovascular risks for heart attacks and stroke. Because the low carbohydrate high fat diet in the study also reduced insulin resistance, this too may enhance heart health. In this regard, it is likely that the removal of processed carbs provided the most significant effect. Low-carb diets that eliminate processed and refined sugars should reduce diabetic risks. It may be that such meal plans improve insulin activity and metabolism in the process. And by reducing diabetic risks, the chance for heart attack and stroke should similarly fall. From this point of view, the authors’ conclusions from the study seem quite logical.

Key Takeaways from the Research

In examining the details of this study, it soon becomes evident that its recommendations support a Mediterranean-type of diet. This is the classic low carbohydrate high fat diet with minimal processed carbs and abundant unsaturated fats. It is also clear that fats are not all bad and that low-carb diets can supplement caloric intake with healthy fats. Understanding this, it becomes quite easy choosing heart healthy foods most likely to enhance your cardiovascular wellness. Some fruits, abundant vegetables, and high-fiber grains should be the types of carbs we select. Likewise, fish, nuts, and olive oil offer healthy fats unlikely to lead to higher lipids or poor glucose metabolism. From a heart health perspective, these are the foods we should consider in our efforts to be our best.


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