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Are High Carb Diets Better Than Low Carb Diets?

In a long-running cohort study, people getting about half their calories from carbohydrates had a better chance of long life than those eating either low carb or high carb diets.

Do you shun fats and focus on carbohydrates for most of your energy? Or do you subscribe to a low-carb lifestyle? Proponents of both high carb diets and low carb diets have been debating their pros and cons for decades. Now, a long-running study suggests that both are less than ideal as a way to achieve longevity (The Lancet Public Health, Aug. 16, 2018).

Basics of the Study:

The Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities (ARIC) study included 15,428 individuals who were middle-aged (45 to 64 years old) at the beginning of the study. All of them filled out questionnaires about their usual diets. During 25 years of follow-up, 6,283 of these people died. That permitted the researchers to evaluate which diets were associated with the greatest risk for mortality during that time. They also analyzed data from seven other multinational studies.

Shun Both Low Carb Diets and High Carb Diets for Longer Life:

The answer would have pleased Goldilocks:

“both low carbohydrate consumption (<40%) and high carbohydrate consumption (>70%) conferred greater mortality risk than did moderate intake.”

People following a low-carb diet were 20 percent more likely to die during the study than those who had more moderate diets, while those on high-carb diets were 23 percent more likely to die.

Vegetarians May Live Longer:

The sweet spot appeared to be around half of calories from carbohydrates. The researchers dug a bit deeper, however. As a result, they determined that when people got more calories from animal-based foods like meat and cheese rather than carbs like bread or cereal, they had higher mortality rates. Those who substituted plant-based fats and proteins from beans, nuts or seeds for carbohydrate calories were less likely to die during the study. Presumably, vegetarians getting roughly 50 percent of their calories from carbs like whole-grain bread or steel-cut oats and their fats and proteins from peanut butter or tofu would do well.

Learn More:

If you’d like some guidance on fixing delicious foods that would fit nicely into an eating pattern with moderate carbohydrate intake, you might want to consider our cookbook, Recipes & Remedies From The People’s Pharmacy. It contains recipes from some of the notable nutrition experts we have interviewed for our radio show.

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies..
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