A new study recently found that low-fat diets could increase the risk of early death, contradicting almost everything we’ve heard or read about healthy eating. The study found that consuming high levels of all fats reduced mortality by 23%, which is not an insignificant number. But does it mean it’s time to check the shopping list? Not that much.
The research was presented at the European Society of Cardiology Congress and found that people with a low saturated fat intake had a 13% higher risk of early death compared to those who ate more of the fat. So even though a diet rich in fat can lead to weight gain, according to WebMD, this new evidence suggests that it can also lead apparently to a longer life.
That does not seem fair at all, especially given that popular thinking in recent decades has suggested that eating high-fat foods is bad. But while it may be time to rethink some of these beliefs, it turns out that the results of this latest study are not so simple.
The study, published in The Lancet, found that people who reduce fats often resort to eating too much food with heavy carbohydrates (such as bread, pasta, and rice) instead. That means that important nutrients are often lost, according to experts involved in the study.
Participants who ate the highest levels of carbohydrates (in particular, refined sugars in things like processed foods) face a 28% higher risk of early death. The “heavy” foods mentioned above may fall into the carbohydrate category.
The study included 135,000 people from 18 different countries, according to TIME, so these findings are not isolated in a small sample size. Of those numbers, experts found that the average diet was composed of 61% carbohydrates, 23% fat and 15% protein. More than half of the people in the study consumed carbohydrate-rich diets, and in some areas (such as South Asia and Africa), the average amount of carbohydrates in the diet was even higher.
Therefore, it seems that carbohydrates are the real culprit of an increased risk of premature death, not fat in general or the absence of it. Mahshid Dehghan, a nutritional epidemiologist at McMaster University, said:
“When you are advised to lower fat, by default, your carbohydrate intake increases. And increased carbohydrate consumption results in an increased risk of mortality.
And researcher Dr. Andrew Mente, also from McMaster University, agreed that we need to rethink our limits on fats and carbohydrates. Mind explained:
“Our data suggest that low-fat diets put populations at increased risk for cardiovascular disease. Loosening the restriction on total fat and saturated fat and setting limits on carbohydrates when they are high to reduce intake to moderate levels would be optimal. “