Since the 1980s, low-carbohydrate, high-fat diets have been touted as a “cure” for numerous ills, from heart disease and diabetes to obesity and Alzheimer’s disease. But is this diet really effective against heart disease?
The evidence is becoming clearer that a diet rich in fats and low on carbohydrates does indeed seem to be heart-healthy. Here we explore the emerging science behind this diet pattern and how you can start implementing the approach to better your health.
The Link Between Carbohydrates and Cardiovascular Disease
The American Heart Association and American Diabetes Association have long promoted a low-glycemic index diet as the best approach for both preventing and treating heart disease and diabetes.1 Glycemic index is a measurement of how fast a particular food raises your blood glucose levels relative to a reference food. Low-glycemic index foods are considered healthier because they don’t spike your blood sugar as much as high-glycemic foods do. This type of diet has been proven to reduce blood pressure and cholesterol levels, making it a nutritious choice for everyone.
Carbohydrates are essential for life. We need glucose, or fuel, for energy. Our bodies also use carbohydrates for many other tasks, like maintaining organ function and providing building blocks for protein synthesis. However, too much of a good thing can be dangerous. When your body runs on glucose as the primary fuel source, your blood becomes oversaturated with glucose and this can lead to serious health problems. Excessive amounts of glucose also lead to increased fatty acid synthesis and lipid accumulation in the liver, which can cause damage and inflammation.
When your body runs on excess glucose, the only solution is to consume more carbohydrates or fats to ensure that you continue to get the fuel you need. This vicious cycle is what makes the low-carbohydrate, high-fat diet so effective against heart disease.
How Low-Carbohydrate, High-Fat Diets Can Benefit Your Heart
When you eat foods with a low glycemic index, your blood glucose levels remain stable for a longer period of time. This has important implications for your heart health because when your blood glucose levels remain stable, your heart doesn’t have to work as hard to maintain blood circulating sugar levels. This, in turn, can lower your heart’s demand for oxygen and reduce the risk of heart disease.
A low-carbohydrate, high-fat diet can also help to reduce inflammation in your body. The primary source of fat in this diet is palmitic acid, which is an omega-3 fatty acid that has anti-inflammatory effects. The saturated fat from animal products also plays an important role in reducing the inflammation in your body, so including more animal proteins in your diet is a great way to lower your cholesterol levels and reduce your risk of heart disease.
Why Are People Embracing the Low-Carbohydrate Approach Against Heart Disease?
If you’re looking for a way to improve your health, you can’t go wrong by considering the low-carbohydrate, high-fat diet. It seems that people are slowly waking up to this truth and more and more are trying to incorporate this healthier way of eating into their daily lives.
This diet can help to reduce cholesterol levels and blood pressure, two important factors in the fight against heart disease. These foods also provide your body with satiating nutrients that leave you feeling comfortably full which, in turn, reduces the frequency of cravings that lead to overeating. This, in turn, can help to reduce the weight gain that often leads to metabolic syndromes (e.g., diabetes, heart disease, and obesity).
In addition to these benefits, the low-carbohydrate approach has also been shown to benefit those with diabetes by improving their blood sugar levels and enabling them to better regulate these levels.2 While it can be difficult to follow a strict low-carbohydrate diet without affecting your daily life, those with diabetes may find it easier to adhere to this way of eating because of the improvements it makes to their condition.
The Emerging Science Behind the Low-Carb Approach Against Heart Disease
While many people seem to have embraced a low-carbohydrate diet against heart disease, there is still a lot of uncertainty surrounding how effective this way of eating truly is. In recent years, researchers have been investigating the effects of a low-carbohydrate diet and how it affects human health. The results have been promising and have lent support to the theory that a diet low in carbohydrates can prevent and treat heart disease.
In studies where they’ve compared a low-carb diet to a control diet, those on the former have shown to achieve better results when it comes to:
- Total cholesterol
- LDL cholesterol (bad cholesterol)
- HDL cholesterol (good cholesterol)
- Blood pressure
- Weight loss
- Glycemic index
- Fat oxidation (breakdown of fats into energy)
- Plant protein synthesis (the building blocks of protein)
These are all important factors in the fight against heart disease, indicating that a diet low in carbohydrates can be an effective way to reduce the harmful cholesterol and triglycerides in your blood, as well as the risk of heart disease. More and more doctors and researchers are in agreement that a low-carbohydrate diet can be used as part of an overall heart disease strategy.
What’s Next For Those Who Embrace a Low-Carbohydrate, High-Fat Diet?
For those who adopt a low-carbohydrate diet, the next step is to increase the fat you eat. The goal is to reach about 60% of total caloric intake from fat and then proceed to decrease the amount of carbohydrates you consume. There is no specific recommendation for how much fat you should aim for, but knowing your own body’s chemistry and food preferences, you can determine how much fat you need to achieve the results you seek.
Some individuals may require more fat than others depending on their genetic make-up and the reason for their cholesterol levels being elevated in the first place. For those who struggle with obesity or have a family history of obesity, a low-carbohydrate diet can be used as a first step towards weight loss. In these individuals, the goal is to reduce total fat by about 10% of body weight which, for example, could mean losing about 15 pounds in a person who is 175 pounds at the start of the diet.
Once you reach your targeted weight, you can start incorporating more carbohydrates into your diet, increasing the amount of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains you consume. This will help to ensure you continue to meet your daily nutritional needs while also promoting gradual weight gain.