Can a Low-Carb, High-Fat Diet Improve Heart Health?

Losing weight by cutting carbs is a popular diet strategy; however, nutritionists have questioned if these diets increase the risk for heart disease. Often, low carb diets include a lot of red meat, cheese, and other saturated fats, which have been thought to contribute to heart disease. But a new study suggests that eating a low-carbohydrate/high fat diet may actually be beneficial to cardiovascular health if you are overweight.1

Surprising Results

As part of the 5-month study, 164 overweight and obese adults were put on strict, low-calorie diets that lowered their body weights by about 12 percent. Then, they were each assigned to follow one of three diets in which 20 percent, 40 percent or 60 percent of their calories came from carbohydrates. The low-carb group ate significantly fewer carbs than the average American, but they were not on a super-low-carb ketogenic diet. Protein was kept steady at 20 percent of calories in each diet, with the remaining calories coming from fat.

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The low-carb diet did not result in any negative changes to cholesterol levels, despite the increase in higher fat foods. Low-carb study participants’ LDL levels remained the same as those following the high-carb diet, but interestingly, the low-carb group also saw a 15 percent reduction in their levels of lipoprotein, a fatty particle in the blood that is linked to heart disease. The low-carb group also showed improved in the metabolic measures linked to Type 2 diabetes, lower triglycerides (a blood fat linked to heart attacks and strokes), and increased levels of adiponectin, a hormone that helps lower inflammation, also linked to heart disease and diabetes

The study suggests that eating fewer processed carbs while eating more fat can be good for your heart health. The low-carb diet used in the study eliminated highly processed and sugary foods, while still leaving room for high-quality carbs from fiber rich vegetables, fruits, and legumes. These findings provide further support for a higher-fat, Mediterranean style diet, which focuses on consuming fish, cheese, olive oil, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds.

So, if you’re trying to lose weight, don’t dismiss the low-carbohydrate high fat diet. It may actually be beneficial to both weight loss and cardiovascular health.


Authored by Zach Meeker, Research Assistant for Midwest Orthopaedics at Rush University Medical Center 

References:

1 Cara B Ebbeling, Amy Knapp, Ann Johnson, Julia M W Wong, Kimberly F Greco, Clement Ma, Samia Mora, David S Ludwig (2021). Effects of a low-carbohydrate diet on insulin-resistant dyslipoproteinemia—a randomized controlled feeding trial, The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.