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Low-Carb Diets May Cause Long-Term Harm, New Study Warns

Carb Cutters at Risk of Cardiac, Renal, Bone and Liver Abnormalities, Study Shows

By NICOLE HODGES Ι

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DietIt’s estimated that 25 million people worldwide are following one of the dozens of increasingly popular fat-embracing, low-carbohydrate diets.

The widespread appeal of The Atkins Diet, Sugar Busters, Protein Power, Stillman and the bevy of other such low-carb plans, say experts, stems from the fact that they promise to help people to not only lose weight but to do so rapidly and with relative ease.

But at what price, ask critics.

Seems a rather significant one if you’re at all concerned with your long-term health, according to a new study from the American Heart Association’s (AHA) nutrition committee.

In its study, the AHA committee reviewed each of the popular low-carb plans and found that while they all caused initial weight loss, the Atkins and Stillman diets mostly caused water and lean muscle weight loss.

Protein Power and Sugar Busters caused weight loss via calorie restriction, but rigidity of the diets and limited food choices made them impractical for the long term, the study says.

“Although these diets may not be harmful for most healthy people for a short period of time,” write the researchers, “there are no long-term scientific studies to support their overall efficacy and safety.”

Of greatest concern to the researchers is the surplus of saturated fat and scarcity of dietary fiber often found in the various low-carb regimens.

They cite clinical studies showing fiber—particularly whole grains, fruits and vegetables—to be quite beneficial in fighting cancer and heart disease. Low-carb plans are noted for providing dismal amounts of dietary fiber.

Even worse, notes lead study author Sachiko T. St. Jeor, R.D., Ph.D., is the bulk of scientific literature linking diets high in saturated fat with heart disease.

“These diets are generally associated with higher intakes of total fat, saturated fat and cholesterol because the protein is provided mainly by animal sources,” notes Dr. St. Jeor.

Because these diets restrict healthful foods that provide essential nutrients and do not provide the variety of foods needed to adequately meet nutritional needs, the researchers advise anyone thinking about undertaking such a plan to think twice.

“Individuals who follow these diets may be at risk for compromised vitamin and mineral intake, as well as potential cardiac, renal, bone and liver abnormalities overall,” they conclude.

Over the long term, notes Dr. St. Jeor, diet composition should be consistent with a smart, relatively low-fat protein- and carbohydrate-balanced eating plan that supports weight maintenance and lowers chronic disease risk.

Research Rundown: The Hidden Dangers of Low-Carb Diets

There is overwhelming evidence that very low-carbohydrate diets may carry a host of long-term effects that could prove to be detrimental to dieters. These include:

Increased Cortisol Levels: The hormone insulin actually suppresses cortisol (a catabolic hormone in the body that can cause lean muscle breakdown). However, with low insulin output due to the absence of carbohydrates, cortisol levels could increase. High levels of cortisol have been linked to many diseases including some cancers.

Vitamin and Mineral Imbalances: Deficiencies in certain vitamins and minerals may also result from a diet regimen that advocates the elimination of whole food groups, such as carbohydrates. This is why many low-carb diets recommend a good multivitamin and multimineral supplement when on the diet.

High Cholesterol: Very low-carb diets may be beneficial for short-term weight loss; however, there is evidence suggesting this sort of dietary regimen could lead to long-term adverse health effects.

Many published studies have taken a hard line against the diet, suggesting, for example, “hypercholesterolemia (high cholesterol) is to be expected in a greater part of the adherents to such a diet,” and, “low-carb, high-fat diets seem to be potentially hazardous to health."

Another recent study published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition says, “While high-fat diets may promote short-term weight loss, the potential hazards for worsening the risk for progression of atherosclerosis override the short-term benefits.”

So the real and final question to ask is … are you willing to sacrifice health for losing weight quickly — especially considering much of the weight loss is from water and lean muscle?

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RESEARCH UPDATE
Study: Diets High in Fat May Be Toxic

Fatty Food

Eating too much dietary fat at one time releases toxins that not only promote body fat accumulation but may also increase your risk for colon cancer, according to new research from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas.

Their findings, published this year in the journal Science , reveals the body’s natural mechanisms aren’t built to handle lithocholic acid, a toxic byproduct of dietary fat, in the volume generated by high-fat diets.

“Lithocholic acid is highly toxic, and it builds up in a high-fat diet ,” says lead researcher Dr. David Mangelsdorf, professor of pharmacology at UT Southwestern.

“We don’t know how it causes cancer; but it is known to cause cancer in mice, and people with colon cancer have high concentrations of it.”

Dr. Mangelsdorf says the body’s natural lithocholic acid-response mechanism simply wasn’t built to handle the amount of fat in the modern American diet.

What This Means to You: “Our bodies can handle slight changes in lithocholic acid that come from a normal diet, but not a high-fat diet,” says Dr. Mangelsdorf.

“The current American diet can provide more fat on a daily basis than a human being was ever meant to handle.”


A Good Night's Sleep Can Help You Lose Weight, New Research Shows

Stress

People suffering from mild depression or anxiety may find relief in keeping with nutritious eating habits, according to a new report published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association.

“There is a relationship between psychological distress and dietary practices,” notes lead author Dr. Alan R. Kristal, a professor of epidemiology at the University of Washington.

Using data from a national survey of 3,500 adults, the researchers found that men and women who reported being psychologically distressed were more than twice as likely to indulge in unhealthy nutritional practices such as skipping meals and eating for emotional reasons.

Poor diets often result from depression and then depression may follow poor eating, leading to a sort of endless loop, notes Dr. Kristal.

What This Means to You: Focusing on a well-balanced diet and eating several small meals throughout the day may help control appetite , supply valuable nutrients to the body and ultimately, alleviate depression, says Dr. Kristal.

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