Low-Carb Diets: Does Science Tell It Like It Is? - Healthy Living Association

Low-Carb Diets: Does Science Tell It Like It Is?

You’ve heard about low-carb diets. Ditching the carbs that come with bread and pasta, substituting vegetable carbs or cutting way back on any kind of carbs. Why? To lose weight primarily and to lower the risk of health problems.

But are low-carb diets really good for you? Some evidence says they are, other apparently just as good evidence says maybe not.

One thing that people often do with the low-carb way to eat is increase their protein intake. That isn’t always a good thing, either, because most people see protein as animal-based food. Increasing your consumption of animal-based protein isn’t completely healthy, either.

Other people substitute plant protein for animal protein in an effort to get what they need without the health risks. They don’t understand the health risks of solely depending on plant-based proteins. A lack of essential amino acids, for example.

Science To The Rescue?

Now there has been a scientific article published in Lancet Public Health reporting on a longitudinal study conducted by researchers at Harvard University and the University of Minnesota sounding a dire warning about low-carb diets.

You could increase your risk of dying by eating low-carb!

That is ominous! How can eating better today lead to a shorter life span?

Especially when eating low-carb diets has been shown to have significant health benefits. Benefits such as making very real changes in Type 2 diabetes to the point of pushing it into remission. These diets also have been proven to reverse such health problems as high blood sugar levels, high insulin levels, inflammation, and high blood pressure.

Many benefits come from low-carb diets.

So, how can they be dangerous to your very life at the same time?

Unfortunately, this study has some serious faults that should be taken into consideration before abandoning your low-carb diet. Equally unfortunately, many so-called scientific studies dealing with foods and health suffer the same shortcomings.

Epidemiological Study

This particular study said it followed 15,000 people for 30 years. That’s a longitudinal study and would be very significant because of the large number of people and the length to time they were studies.

But …

The researchers used what is called the Food Frequency Questionnaire to ask people what they ate. For the last 30 years!

Well, not quite the entire time. The researchers did ask the participants to fill out the questionnaire twice. In the mid-1980s and late 1990s.

Two times to remember what they ate over the intervening years. How many of us can remember in detail what we ate three days ago? Yet, the subjects in this study were asked to remember for years what they ate.

And they were asked for detail. How many 8 ounce glasses of skim or low fat milk, for example, over at least the past year. There were no options for “I don’t remember” or “I don’t know.”

Generally, this type of epidemiological study has been shown by reputable scientists to be flawed.

Food Frequency Questionnaire

The FFQ is comprised of only 66 questions. Regarding food, how many different ingredients are in any single food you eat? Thinking about the foods you ate over the past week how well would 66 questions cover everything you ate?

This kind of questionnaire is woefully inadequate for the kind of study under consideration. In order to develop a questionnaire that would cover everything a person might eat over a year would be impossible. Even more complex would be the math required to compute the benefits versus drawbacks of each ingredient.

Other Drawbacks

One of the drawbacks of this study was an assumption that apparently was made by the researchers that all of the participants ate exactly the same thing from year to year in their lifetimes. They met with the participants only six times over the 30 years and asked for the FFQ to be completed only twice.

This is simply not logical.

Also, there was no consideration given to the changes in foods available over the years. The attempt to measure all of these potential variables would be impossible.

In addition, no information was obtained for the last 20 years of the study! What did the subjects eat then?

Finally, it would be ludicrous to think that what people ate many years before would be directly responsible for their deaths. What happened in those 15,000 people over the years that may or may not have shortened their lives? What genetics may or may not have exerted some influence on their life spans?

None of these issues were addressed in the study.

What Was Actually Studied?

It’s easier to say what was not studied: low-carb diets! That’s right, no low-carb diets were studied in this study that allegedly reports on low-carb diets.

The lowest low-carb diet reported in this study consisted of 37% carbs in a 1558 calorie per day diet. That translates to 144 grams of carbs per day.

Not exactly a low-carb diet.

A low-carb diet typically contains 30 to 50 grams of carbs per day. The reported low-carb diet  therefore contains about 3 to 5 times the amount of carbs per day than what is considered a low-carb diet.

This finding suggests researchers made a basic mistake. They assumed since a diet made up of 37% carbs apparently led to shorter life spans, any diet with even fewer carbs would lead to even shorter life spans.

This kind of faulty reasoning also doesn’t take into consideration that low-carb diets have a “sweet spot” in metabolism. In other words, everyone responds to a different level of low in low-carb diets. That sweet spot is the level at which there will be positive results for an individual. This may be unique for that person.

It also means if 144 grams of carbs should be deadly, which is not shown in this study, lowering consumption to 20 grams a day might actually be beneficial for some people.

What this says is the essential basis of this study was absent and the researchers showed clear evidence of their bias.

Misleading Assumptions

The researchers seem to have made at least one assumption that has no basis in fact regarding the study. That is, they reported substituting plant-based foods for animal-based foods decreased the mortality of the subjects of the study.

In fact, this was not part of the study. This was an epidemiological study, not an experimental one. There were no substitutions of plant-based foods for animal-based foods. Thus, this assumption, stated as fact, is exceptionally misleading and possibly another indication of bias on the part of the researchers.

Lack of Explanatory Data

The insinuation made by the researchers that low-carb diets lead to death is not explained regarding how they might do this. Such explanations would be valuable in light of the published scientific studies showing low-carb consumption actually brings very beneficial results for some common chronic illnesses.

That the researchers focus on what is hypothetical dangers of meat and fat consumption while ignoring the documented dangers of sugar consumption shows more evidence of poor science at least and researcher bias at worst.

Politics vs Science

The difficulties shown in this research highlights the ongoing problem of politics infecting science. For many years, the top spots in the field of nutrition have been held by epidemiologists from the major health institutions such as Harvard School of Public Health.

These professionals have apparently used their influence to push low-cholesterol, low-fat, high plant-based food diets. Even though their information has been based on the same kind of epidemiological studies as the one under consideration, their views have been taken as gospel.

Recent research has shown low-carb, high-fat diets have benefits for people’s health. And the segment of the population that supports animal protein being healthy have also shown benefits for people’s overall health.

In fact, nutritional epidemiology’s record regarding the validity of its hypotheses has been exceptionally bad. Up to 80% of their stated opinions have been proven wrong in human clinical trials.

This can be seen in the rapidly-changing statements regarding which foods are good for people and which are not. One day coffee is bad for you, the next it’s good. One day eating eggs leads to higher cholesterol, the next day they’re healthy to eat.

How should people eat? Who should they trust to tell them what is nutritionally best for them when one thing is said this week, the opposite is said the next week?

Politics has no place in science, especially when the subject of the scientific study is what is best for people to eat. Making the kinds of assumptions stated in the study under consideration is dangerous and definitely un-scientific.

There is no reason to stay away from low-carb diets. They are not deadly, as the authors of this study would have you believe. Remember you are an individual and low-carb diets may affect you differently than it affects others. Overall, there are significant health benefits to eating a low-carb diet.


Latest Low-Carb Study: All Politics, No Science https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/diagnosis-diet/201809/latest-low-carb-study-all-politics-no-science

Is coffee healthy or not: How to know if medical studies are worth your time  https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation-now/2018/06/15/coffee-wine-healthy-understand-medical-studies/697525002/

Low-Carb Diets Signficantly Increase Risk of Early Death  https://www.realnatural.org/low-carb-diets-increase-deaths/

The Challenge of Reforming Nutritional Epidemiologic Research  https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/2698337

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