Study answers on whether a low-carb or low-fat diet helps you live longer

  • New research determines whether a low-carb or low-fat diet is better for longevity.
  • Researchers found that participants following one diet had an 18 percent lower mortality rate than those following the other.
  • Experts interpret the results.

When it comes to diets, each type of meal plan boasts different benefits, no matter what weight loss, reducing inflammationOR increase your brain power. Now, new research finds whether a low-carb diet or a low-fat diet promotes longevity.

The study published in the Journal of Internal Medicine examined the effects of both low carbohydrate diets and low-fat diets to determine which of the two has helped people live longer lives, and the results may surprise you.

The researchers analyzed data from the NIH-AARP Diet and Health Study, which recruited AARP members aged 50 to 71 in 1995 and 1996. Study participants were asked to complete a food questionnaire. Participants who reported having cancer, heart disease, hit, diabetesend-stage kidney disease or other health problems were excluded from the analysis which left 371,159 participants in total.

Participants’ food choices were ranked according to how similar they resembled a healthy low-carb or healthy low-fat diet. A healthy low-carbohydrate diet was defined as a high intake of unsaturated fat with limited consumption of low-quality carbohydrates, such as refined grains, added sugars, fruit juices, and starchy vegetables. A healthy low fat diet included plant based protein, high-quality carbohydrates, such as whole grains, whole fruits, legumes and non-starchy vegetables, and low saturated fat.

After a follow-up about 23.5 years later, the researchers found that participants whose eating patterns were most similar to the healthy low-fat diet had an 18 percent lower overall mortality rate than those with patterns. foods that looked least like the healthy low-fat diet. On the other hand, participants whose eating patterns most closely resembled the healthy low-carb diet had only a slightly lower mortality rate than those with eating patterns that least resembled this diet.

What is a Low Carb Diet?

A low-carb diet typically limits the amount of carbohydrates you eat in a day by favoring more protein-rich or high-fat foods on your plate, she says. Melissa Prest, DCN, RDNNational Media spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and a member of the Prevention Medical Review Board. A low-carb diet can be considered one in which total carbohydrate intake is less than 45 percent of total calories, adds Keri Gans, MS, RD, author of The diet of small changes.

What is a low fat diet?

A low-fat diet can be considered one in which total fat intake is less than 30 percent of total calories, says Gans. However, he notes that these percentages can vary depending on the specific diet protocol you’re following. A low-fat diet limits the number of high-fat foods you eat with a higher proportion of carbohydrate and protein foods on your plate, explains Prest.

Why is a low-fat diet better for longevity than a low-carb diet?

In this study, researchers noted that those who ate a low-fat diet and replaced saturated fats lived longer than those who ate a low-carb diet. This may be due to more plant foods on your plate, which other studies have found are important for preventing heart disease and some cancers, Perst says.

However, notes Gans, a lot has to do with food choices within each diet and which foods can actually be omitted or included. For example, high-fiber carbohydrates, such as oats, beans and 100% whole grains have been linked to many health benefits, such as lowering cholesterol levels, preventing heart disease risk, and a positive correlation with digestive health. If a person has to reduce the intake of these types of foods, he loses the health benefits. On the other hand, saturated fats are linked to an increase in heart disease and limiting foods, such as red meat, butter, cream and fried foods, may have a benefit, he adds.

The bottom line

While there are limitations to this study, namely measuring dietary intake only once, it does highlight that eating a more balanced meal rather than drastically cutting carbohydrates reduces heart disease risk and contributes to longevity, Perst says. Research has shown that dietary patterns high in plant foods, low in saturated fat, and including whole grains are strongly associated with less chronic conditions inflammationlower rates of heart disease and some cancers and are commonly consumed in people who live longer.

At the end of the day, it’s the food choices that matter and not what you label your diet, as not all fat or carbohydrates are created equal, says Gans. Also, keep in mind that diet is only part of living a healthy lifestyle – getting enough sleep, being physically active, and reducing stress are also very important.

The most important conclusion is that a healthy diet (whether it was low-carb or low-fat) was associated with substantial health benefits and life extension, she says. Brett Victor, MD, a cardiologist at Cardiology Consultants in Philadelphia. The important takeaway here is to talk to your doctor or a registered dietitian about whether you want to make the decisions that are best for your health and longevity, rather than following the latest internet diet.

Overall, choosing more complex carbohydrates (whole grains, whole fruits, legumes, and non-starchy vegetables) over low-quality carbohydrates (refined grains, added sugars, fruit juices, and starchy vegetables) will result in a longer life and healthier, adds Dr. Victor. The same goes for the increase in plant versus animal protein and the decrease in saturated fat in the diet.

Headshot of Madeleine Haase

Magdalene, Preventions assistant editor, has a history with health writing from her experience as an editorial assistant at WebMD and her own research at the university. She holds degrees in biopsychology, cognition, and neuroscience from the University of Michigan and helps strategize for success across the globe. Preventions social media platforms.

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