Curb the Carbs for Heart Health – study shows

High Carb, Low-Fat Diet is bad for your Heart



Takeaway First

A major recent study highlighted in the New York Times, show that a diet lower in carbs and higher in fat may lower your risk of heart attack. This should come under no surprise however. Other studies have linked a high carb diet to type-2 diabetes, weight gain and prostate cancer.

The Details

•    Bazzano et al. (2014) compared the effects of high-carb diets and low-carb diets on weight-loss and cardiovascular risk factors.  Subjects (148 total) on the low-carb diet lost significantly more weight and lowered their overall risk for cardiovascular disease.  What’s interesting is that the low-carb diets tended to be high in fat!
•    Another study (Hu et al., 2013) found that the higher the glycemic load of a person’s diet (the amount of carbohydrates in the diet), the higher their risk of prostate, pancreatic, and colorectal cancer.
•    Yet another study (Bhupathiraju et al., 2014) found that high-carb diets were associated with a higher risk of developing type-2 diabetes.
•    A study of elderly people found that subjects were much more likely to have heart attacks or develop dementia if carbs made up a large part of their diets.

My Take on This

Ever since Dr. Atkins published his Diet Revolution in 1972, carbohydrates have had a mixed reputation.  Atkins claimed that it was a lot easier to lose weight and reduce cardiovascular risk if people controlled their intake of carbohydrates and increased fat and protein in their diets.  This may seem strange to hear today, but it was even more outrageous, even heretical when it was originally published in the 1970s.  Back then, low-fat, high-carb diets were in vogue, and Dr. Atkins was viewed a nutritional quack.  At the time, Atkins didn’t have much credible research to back up his teachings, but the findings in new research suggest that Dr. Atkins was indeed on to something.

As always, though, it’s important to remember that there are healthy and unhealthy kinds of each macronutrient (carbs, fats, proteins).  White bread and white potatoes, for instance, are both high glycemic carbs, but brown rice and quinoa low glycemic and loaded with nutrients.  Yes, there is confusion on the best diet, especially with the paleo diet movement suggesting no grain or even legume is beneficial. But I differ with that opinion. According to Dr. Ronald M. Krauss, quoted in a New York Times article (read it here!), refined carbohydrates are the riskiest kind because they raise the number of LDL particles and make them smaller and denser.  This makes the particles perfect for clogging arteries.  Maybe “low-carb” should be qualified a bit: “small amounts of good carbs, and no refined carbs.”

With these new studies on our hands, Dr. Atkins’s low-carb, high-fat diet Revolution might not be so much of a Revolution as he thought.  But improving our health and preventing disease involves more than jumping on an old fad-diet.  We can take these new findings, combine them with what we know about good foods and bad foods, and build on what Atkins was saying.  Putting all this together, we get a diet with zero refined carbs, a few complex carbs, and a large amount of calories from fat and protein.

The Bottom Line

The research clearly shows that we have to curb our carbohydrates, or we risk doing harm to our whole bodies.  Reducing your carbs can reduce your risk of several types of cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and dementia and heart attack in old age.  All things considered, I’d recommend eliminating refined carbs, moderately consume complex carbs, and being liberal with your fat (except trans-fats) and protein.  As always, eat your vegetables – organic when possible!


Bazzano, L. A. et al.  (2014). Effects of low-carbohydrate and low-fat diets: a randomized trial.  Ann Intern Med 161(5): 309-318.  doi: 10.7326/M14-0180
Bhupathiraju SN et al. (2014). Glycemic index, glycemic load, and risk of type 2 diabetes: results from 3 large US cohorts and an updated meta-analysis. Am J Clin Nutr. 100(1):218-232.
Hu, J. et al. (2013).  Glycemic index, glycemic load and cancer risk.  Ann Oncol 24(1): 245-51.
Roberts R.O. et al. (2012). Relative intake of macronutrients impacts risk of mild cognitive impairment or dementia. J Alzheimer’s Dis. 32(2):329-39.


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