Low-carb diets made headlines recently because research with women showed eating lots of protein burns more calories than a low-fat diet. The findings suggested that low-carb is the way to go for initial weight loss, but increased heart disease risk long-term. Another study has produced more specific results about how much a low-carb diet increases heart disease risk for women.
Quick weight loss
Low-carb diets high in protein are becoming increasingly popular for quick weight loss. A low-carb diet can supply adequate nutrients, but only if a bulk of the protein is plant-based and the carbs eliminated come from processed foods and sugary drinks.
The main problem with low-carb diets is that the dieting public doesn’t usually play by those rules. That’s why studies on low-carb diets suggest that a focus on protein is effective short term, but the long-term heart disease risk is unacceptable. In an effort to get clear results about the long-term health consequences of low-carb diets, a team of researchers tracked a group of nearly 44,000 Swedish women that filled out a food survey in 1991-92 for about 15 years.
One boiled egg
In a report published in the British Medical Journal, researchers used survey data to determine which women ate the least carbohydrates and the most protein. The women were tracked to see how many were diagnosed with heart disease.
Over an average of about 15 years, 1,270 women developed heart conditions overall. The women who ate the least carbs and most protein had a 62 percent higher incidence of heart disease than women who didn’t follow a low-carb diet—an additional four-to-five women out of 10,000 each year.
According to the findings, cutting 20 grams of carbohydrates and adding five grams of protein a day increased long-term heart disease risk in the women by 5 percent—the dietary equivalent of passing on a bread roll and eating an extra boiled egg, according to the researchers. It was suggest that the association was stronger for women eating protein mostly from animal sources.
Patience has its virtues
The researchers concluded that the quick weight loss benefits of a low-carb diet “seem irrelevant in the face of increasing evidence of higher morbidity and mortality from cardiovascular diseases in the long term.”
As with all diet research, it’s hard to say if the results are definitive. But the takeaway may be to forgo the immediate gratification of quick weight loss approaches and opt for a healthier, low-glycemic approach that takes longer. Studies have shown that the longer it takes to lose weight, the easier it is to keep it off.