Are Carbs the Problem? Not Fats?


It is getting increasingly more difficult to keep up with research studies on diet. It seems that every few weeks it is something new. Yet when I read through the published studies it all boils down to the same thing. This one is no different. The results were the same; the healthiest people in the world eat fruits, vegetables, beans, seeds, nuts & whole grains, avoid or limit simple carbohydrates and sugar.

The latest study from McMasters University in Canada suggests that carbohydrates are the problem in diet related illnesses, such as cardiovascular diseases, rather than fat. 

The Canadian Reducing carbohydrates, not fat, should be focus of dietary guidelines, study says  A McMaster University study found a higher-fat diet was actually associated with a lower risk of early death.”

The Telegraph: Low-fat diet could kill you, major study shows  Always love these headlines 🙁

Here are the facts that I have taken from the McMasters study: 

  • The study is challenging the World Health Organization’s guidelines for a low fat diet as the best diet for cardiovascular health.
  • Participants: 135,000 people in 18 countries.
  • Since heart disease is a global problem, this study was important.
  • Findings: Participants who ate a higher fat diet of 30%, rather than the 11% recommended, had a 23% LESS risk of dying & 18% lower risk of stroke.
  • The results were based on a 30% intake of all fats: saturated, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids. 30% being the ~fat sweet spot~.
  • They found no evidence that a low fat diet, less than 10 %, had any health benefits, & under 7% was harmful.
  • A diet with more than 60% carbs had a 28% higher risk of death.
  • Low carb diets showed no health benefits either.
  • They concluded that the healthiest diet would be 50 to 55 per cent carbohydrates ~ called the carb sweet spot~ and 35 per cent total fat, including both saturated and unsaturated types.
  • Although further study is needed, these results may have an even better impact on cancer, respiratory disease & dementia.

Another study that is referenced in the articles above is about the amount of fruit, veggies & legumes you should consume on a healthy dietReuters: Study challenges conventional wisdom on fats, fruits and vegetables  By Andrew M. Seaman

Facts gleaned from the second look at the McMasters study regarding fruits & veggies.

  • Current WHO guidelines state that individuals should eat a minimum of 5 servings of fruits, vegetables & legumes per day.
  • Canadian guidelines are 5-10 servings per day. USA guidelines are 5-13 servings of fruits, veggies & legumes per day.
  • In most parts of the world 5 servings of fruits would be too expensive. 
  • The greatest health benefits was 3-4 servings per day with no significant increase in benefits above that.
  • This study does not suggest that you quit eating more than the recommended servings if you already do.

The researchers of this study stress MODERATION. They are not giving you a free license to eat extremely high fat & extremely low carb diets. I must agree with this idea. The only point I felt was lacking, in all but one article, was to stress that the carbs that are the problem are simple carbohydrates, not complex carbs. In other words; sodas, sugar, processed & packaged foods, etc.

Our Blog post for December 2015 was ‘Tis the Season of Carbs!  Click on the title & review the information about complex carbohydrates & simple carbs. 

Complex carbohydrates play an essential role in keeping the immune system healthy & functioning. Our body needs complex carbohydrates. From Carbohydrates: Simple versus Complex: “Complex carbohydrates may be referred to as dietary starch and are made of sugar molecules strung together like a necklace or branched like a coil. They are often rich in fiber, thus satisfying and health promoting. Complex carbohydrates are commonly found in whole plant foods and, therefore, are also often high in vitamins and minerals.

Simple carbohydrates are sugars. All simple carbohydrates are made of just one or two sugar molecules. They are the quickest source of energy, as they are very rapidly digested.” They also pose the greatest health risk. Look at our Blog Post ‘Tis the Season of Carbs! for a list of both types of carbs.

Read this article from the South China Post: Why West’s low-fat diet advice could be deadly for Asia’s poor, because they’ll likely eat even more carbs Telling people already on a high-carb, low-fat diet to eat less fat will only get them eating even more carbs – increasing their risk of death – because of the high cost of fruit and vegetables, say researchers. UPDATED Sunday, 03 September, 2017.

Any diet recommendation should be for the country or culture that the study population is from. Even though researchers say that the healthiest people in the world eat fruits, vegetables, beans, seeds, nuts & whole grains, and avoid or limit simple carbohydrates and sugar; not all cultures can or need to eat that way. Eating healthy has become an economic & even a political issue. 

What do we do with the information. We set it up as an example of what we can strive towards. We do the best we can within the limits of our pocketbook & what is actually available to us. We construct a diet that fits our culture & food preferences. Otherwise we set ourselves up for failure & that healthy diet change is never met.

So here we are again. Fat is okay in moderation; 30% of your calories. Low fat diets are harmful. Complex carbs are okay in moderation; 50-55% of your calories. Simple carbs are not okay. Eat a plant based diet. If you are on a budget ~& who isn’t~ here is that website I talked about last week: Plant Based on a Budget Check out their Lentil Taco Filling.

Until next week…Mary 🙂