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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

Harvard: Healthy Low-carbohydrate and Low-fat diets May Reduce Risk of Premature Death

When eating a low-carbohydrate or low-fat diet (LCD or LFD), choosing healthy foods is key to reducing the risk of premature death, according to a new study led by researchers from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

People who ate healthy versions of the diets — filling their plates with whole grains, non-starchy vegetables, whole fruits, and nuts—had a lower risk of premature death compared to people who did not follow either diet. On the other hand, people who ate unhealthy LCDs or LFDs, including high amounts of low-quality carbohydrates, animal protein, and saturated fat, had a higher risk of premature death compared to people who didn’t follow those diets.

“Our findings show clearly that the quality rather than the quantity of macronutrients in our diet has an important impact on our health,” said first author Dr. Zhilei Shan, a postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Nutrition. “The debate on the health consequences of low-fat or low-carbohydrate diets is largely moot unless the food sources of fats or carbohydrates are clearly defined.”

The study was published online January 21 in JAMA Internal Medicine.

Previous research has shown that different types of carbohydrates and fats have varying effects on disease risk and health. For example, low-quality carbohydrates, such as white bread or sugar-sweetened cereals, can cause spikes in blood sugar that may contribute to insulin resistance and other metabolic problems. And foods high in saturated fat, such as red meat and butter, may increase the risk of heart disease. The current study is the first known investigation of associations between low-carbohydrate and low-fat diets and mortality that considers macronutrient quality.

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