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No-Carb Diets May Have It All Wrong, According To New Research

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Low to no-carb diets are nothing new. They’ve been around for years and years, in one form or another. In fact, strict no carb-diets have been used to manage and treat a variety of health conditions for decades. But in the last 20-30 years, they’ve gained traction as a fast and relatively easy way to lose weight. We’ve been through the Atkins Diet, the South Beach Diet, Whole30, and now, keto. The amount of carbs each allows varies, but generally speaking, these diets are restrictive when it comes to carbohydrates. But does a no-carb diet actually have benefits for your life and health in the long term? New research on cutting carbs is calling that into question.

No-carb diets have been lauded as healthy by proponents of the restrictive eating plans. But is cutting out carbs really going to make you healthier in the long run?

In a new study published in The Lancet, researchers say not so much. Researchers studied 15,428 people living in the U.S., and they found that people who consumed “moderate” levels of carbs had the lowest risk of mortality. Moderate is defined as 50-55% of their daily caloric intake. In other words, people who eat carbs in moderation live longer than those who eat too many, but also live longer than those who don’t eat any at all. The study also found that not all low to no-carb diets offered the same results.

Experts, however, urge everyone to take these findings with a grain of salt.

Some experts didn’t find the results of the study to be particularly surprising. Brian Bender, PhD, a certified nutritionist and co-founder of My Intake Pro. Dr. Bender says, “Decades of research keep coming back to notion that, at the population level, ‘moderate’ levels of consumption for nearly all dietary components results in the best health outcomes. Extreme diets that focus too heavily on one or another nutrient rarely produce optimal long-term results.”

But Dr. Tro Kalayjian, a weight loss and nutrition physician in New York, takes issue with the study itself (not necessarily the results). The study did not test any one particular diet. Instead, it was an epidemiologic population-based study that used food questionnaires. As such, says Dr. Kalayjian, Nobody in that study was ever put on a specific diet to assess the outcomes of a particular nutritional approach. It broadly looks at the population.”

So when it comes to carbs, what is the best approach? Experts say that focusing on quality, not quantity, is the way to go.

Yes, there are bad carbs (processed foods, simple carbs like bread and pasta, sugars, etc.). Limiting or cutting out the bad carbs, while eating more good carbs (fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, and complex carbs that are high in fiber) is far more beneficial than cutting out carbs completely. Ideally, 50-55% of your daily caloric intake should be GOOD carbs, with the rest coming from plant-based proteins and fats and lots of fruits and vegetables.

This is not to say that no-carb diets are bad. For a lot of people, cutting them out completely at first is easier than limiting them. But keep in mind that a healthy, well-balanced diet includes good carbs. So maybe consider letting a few back in.

(Image: iStock/happy_lark)

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