A study which found consuming a diet that is either very high or very low in carbohydrates is associated with a shorter life expectancy has sparked the latest chapter in the debate between scientists over healthy lifestyles.
"Yet supporters of the cult of Low Carb High Fat eating will no doubt disagree with this newest research".
After following the group for an average of 25 years, researchers found that those who got 50-55% of their energy from carbohydrates (the moderate carb group and in line with United Kingdom dietary guidelines) had a slightly lower risk of death compared with the low and high-carb groups.
Co-author Dr Sara Seidelmann said: 'Low-carb diets that replace carbohydrates with protein or fat are gaining widespread popularity as a health and weight loss strategy. "However, our data suggests that animal-based low carbohydrate diets, which are prevalent in North America and Europe, might be associated with shorter overall life span". The conclusions are associations not causal relationships and the researchers had to rely on the participants to remember what they had eaten in order to determine their diets.
Participants were followed for about 25 years, during which 6,283 people died.
Proponents of meat-heavy low-carb "Stone Age" diets argue that the rapid shift 10,000 years ago - with the advent of agriculture - to grains, dairy and legumes has not allowed the human body enough time to adapt to these high-carb foods.
The results were also combined with seven other studies on carbohydrate intake among people in North American, European and Asian countries, which revealed similar trends in life expectancy. This analysis confirmed the researchers' earlier findings: Low- and high-carb diets were linked with a 20 percent increase in the risk of death during the study, compared with moderate-carb diets.
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The authors speculated that Western-type diets that heavily restrict carbohydrates often lead to greater consumption of animal proteins and fats, which may drive inflammation, biological ageing and oxidative stress.
Seidelmann suggested that, "instead, if one chooses to follow a low-carbohydrate diet, then exchanging carbohydrates for more plant-based fats and proteins might actually promote healthy aging in the long term".
Although previous studies have shown such diets can be beneficial for short-term weight loss and lower heart risk, the longer-term impact is proving to have more negative consequences, according to the study.
Dr Aseem Malhotra, a London-based cardiologist and anti-obesity campaigner, questioned the validity of the study.
Despite these limitations, a U-shaped link between diet and health outcomes seems logical, because "essential nutrients should be consumed above a minimal level to avoid deficiency, and below a maximal level to avoid toxicity", Dr. Andrew Mente and Dr. Salim Yusuf, both of McMaster University and the Population Health Research Institute in Hamilton, Canada, wrote in a commentary accompanying the study. A "sweet spot" found somewhere in the middle at 50 per cent of calories.
Even people who had high intakes were better off than those who drastically cut out carbohydrates.
However, the key is eating it in moderation and incorporating vegetables, lentils and nuts to your diet.