Have a heart: low carb, high protein diets

Posted by on Jun 29, 2012 in aging, diet, heart disease | 8 comments

This post will not be very popular amongst some people. And I apologize in advance for that. But I only share information that you may find useful; it’s up to you to decide how to use it.

Lately, there’s been a craze to consume diets high in protein and low in carbs in order to stave off weight and theoretically, certain diseases. But what if a diet out of balance is placing your heart at risk? That’s exactly what researchers are reporting in a large study of almost 44,000 Swedish women that was published this week in the open access British Medical Journal. You can find that study here. Mind you, the researchers caution that the findings don’t address whether or not there are benefits to eating such a diet in the short term. But this is what they do show:

  • After examining questionnaires collected over a 15+ year period in this group of relatively young women (ages 30 to 49), they observed 1,270 heart events, including heart disease, stroke, hemorrhage and peripheral disease of the arteries.
  • When they scored the diets based on protein or carb intake (with 1 being ‘very high’ and 10, ‘very low) or a mixed diet (with 2 associated with hi carb/lo protein and 20, every low carb and very high protein) they learned that a 1 point decline in intake of carbohydrates or 1 point increase in protein was associated with a 4% increase in heart events.
  • Each 2 point increase in low carb/high protein diets (which is equivalent to a 5 gram increase in daily protein intake and a 20 gram decline in daily carbohydrate intake, was linked to a significant 5% increase in heart events. Moreover, these risks did not differ substantially among women whose protein intake primarily derived from animal or plant origin.

The researchers state that “vegetables, fruits, cereals and legumes, which have been found in several studies to be core components of healthy dietary patterns, are important sources of carbohydrates so reduced intake of these food groups is likely to have adverse effects on cardiovascular health,” adding that “several studies have reported that meat consumption or hight intake of protein from animal sources may increase the risk of cardiovascular disease.”

So, what’s the primary message here? Well, like any other study, nothing is definitive. And yet, we know that heart disease risk naturally increases as women age. Should you continue to ascribe to the low-carb/high-protein craze, you may want to pay extra attention to your heart health. You may look like a million bucks and your insulin levels may be fabulous but your heart may be struggling to keep up. Meanwhile? Concentrate on low fat animal proteins and try to stay with the 80-20 rule if you refuse to change your ways, i.e., 80% protein, 20% carbohydrates. Seriously? Have a heart.


  1. 6-29-2012

    Great point, Liz. Having been through the Atkins book, I can tell you there were too many people parroting the Carb-is-a-Carb idea, and not considering the Quality of the carbs. Carbohydrates from fresh vegetables also come with fiber and nutrients, and you shouldn’t shun them. (Sugarbusters had a great take on the Glycemic index, rating foods based on the percentage of the carbs would actually render as glucose.)
    That doesn’t change the fact that our diets consume WAY too much in refined sugars and flours. The number that stuck with me was that in 1900, the average American had less than 20 pounds of sugar in their diet — and a century later than was well over 120 pounds.
    Breaking that cycle of sugar/insulin production is so important for controlling cravings, and simply wanting the right kinds of foods.

    • 6-29-2012

       @Ike You are absolutely correct Ike and by no means am I touting a strategy that forgoes the good carbs. In fact, that is what I mean when I talk ‘balanced.’ My concern is that too many people are taking shortcuts while not necessarily being mindful of the effects on other aspects of their health. Western societies consume too much processed and refined “white” foods and it’s led us down a slippery slope of disease. But too much protein is equally harmful. 

    • 6-30-2012

       @Ike That seems pretty much what @Liz was saying, I thought. I’m always amazed at the foods I find HFCS or other sugars in. It’s in everything!!!

      • 7-2-2012

         @AmyVernon  @Ike it seems that we surrendered our food supply to big industry. Getting it back is what is so challenging. 

  2. 6-29-2012

    It is so hard to know what to believe anymore. I recently read this article that I believe discusses the same study, but draws very different conclusions: http://www.marksdailyapple.com/is-it-time-to-retire-the-low-carb-diet-fad/#axzz1zCwgLUbI
    I have recently cut back on carbs (wheat and refined sugar specifically) and found that it has helped overall with weight control. I still eat a lot of vegetables, fruit, and lowfat dairy, along with a moderate amount of meat and seafood. So far so good, but it will be interesting to see the results at my next annual physical. I feel good though! 🙂
    Next week they’ll be telling us something else is bad for us. I guess everything is moderation is the key! The stat that @Ike mentions, though, is fascinating. The difference between 20 lbs of sugar and 120 lbs is, I’m SURE, a key reason for the obesity epidemic we are currently facing.
    Thanks for the great post!

    • 6-29-2012

      @JenFongSpeaks Actually, the four biggest factors in the epidemic in America are:

      – the fiction that You Are What You Eat, and eating no fat means you won’t get fat
      – the crappy food pyramids and whacked out USDA guidelines based on opinions instead of real science
      – ridiculous government subsidies that make HFCS far cheaper than it ought to be
      – processed foods for lazy lifestyles.

      • 6-29-2012

         @Ike  @JenFongSpeaks Actually, the USDA guidelines appear to be highly influenced by industry money. Why do you think that ketchup was classified as a vegetable during the Nixon administration?

    • 6-29-2012

       @JenFongSpeaks  @Ike Jen, not sure that it draws entirely different conclusions but it appears to look at the same database. Often, what drives the data analysis is exactly what they are trying to prove. And you are right; it is confusing! That’s why the best decisions lie with balance and moderation. Thanks for chiming in! And for the link!

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