Cutting down on carbohydrates can raise cholesterol levels
The popularity of low-carb diets for weight loss is causing a higher incidence of cardiovascular disease, according to new research focusing on the eating habits of the Swedes. Back in the 1970s, Swedish researchers became aware that people in the north of the country were more likely to suffer with cardiovascular disease than those elsewhere. In fact, for men, the risk of heart disease was among the highest in the world. For this reason, in 1985, a programme to educate the public about healthy eating was commissioned to help reduce the risk of heart disease in the population. The programme has been ongoing and researchers have used the data to find out how dietary habits affect cardiovascular risk.
Now, researchers from the Umeå University, Sweden, as well as the University of Gothenburg and the National Board of Welfare, have reviewed the information gathered via the programme and found that after six years there was a reduction of fat intake of 3% for men and 4% for women. People also ate more low-fat spreads rather than butter. So educating the public about healthy eating had had a beneficial effect. But after 2005 levels of fat, and particularly saturated fat, began to increase, eventually rising above original levels. Why? The low-carb diet craze had begun to take hold and people were cutting back on carbohydrates while eating a greater proportion of high-fat foods. Cholesterol levels increased along with the higher fat intake, despite the fact that cholesterol-lowering drugs were now also more readily available.
“With the focus entirely on losing weight rather than eating healthily in order to lose weight, it’s easy to see how people might be enticed by a very low carb diet,” says registered nutritionist Dr Carina Norris. “Weight loss can be quick when you eat larger amounts of protein and cut back drastically on carbs, but not paying attention to your fat intake can be a recipe for disaster. Not only will your cholesterol levels rise, you’re likely to simply put the weight back on once you start eating normally again. Your body needs carbohydrates, just as it needs the beneficial kinds of fats, but it needs them in healthy amounts – around 312 g per day of carbs for men, 250 g for women; and 91g per day of fat for men, 73g for women.”