You’ve heard it a million times. If you want to maintain good health, as well as a svelte figure, it’s essential to cut the fat out of your diet. Too much fat, we’ve been told, is linked to obesity, diabetes, heart disease and stroke.
But now that view is changing and, instead, researchers are pointing to another macro-nutrient in our diet that may be to blame for our myriad health problems: carbohydrates.
In a study published in the Lancet, researchers found that study participants eating high quantities of carbohydrates had a nearly 30 percent higher risk of dying than people eating a low-carb diet, and that people eating a high-fat diet had a 23 percent lower chance of stroke during the study’s seven years of follow-up compared to those who ate a lower-fat diet.
So what gives? Does this mean the low-fat mantra we’ve heard for the last 40 years or so is wrong? The answer is possibly.
One problem is that when the link between fat and cholesterol and heart disease was first surfacing, the studies were based in North America, where people consume way more fat than those in other countries. So while excess fat in the diet may indeed play a role in health problems like heart disease, blindly replacing the fat with more carbohydrates, especially the processed kind, could be worse.
“Starchy foods like white bread, white rice, potato products, crackers and cookies digest quickly into glucose, raise insulin levels, program the body for excessive weight gain and increase risk for chronic disease,” explained Dr. David Ludwig, a professor in the Department of Nutrition at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, and director of the New Balance Foundation Obesity Prevention Center at Boston Children’s Hospital.
Other experts are quick to point out that we shouldn’t ban all carbs from our diet, as rich carbohydrate sources like fresh fruits and vegetables and whole grains offer beneficial fiber, minerals and vitamins.
“For example, eating a healthy carb like an apple is more nutrient dense and better for you than eating a bag of processed potato chips,” Bethany O’Dea, a cardiothoracic dietitian with Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, told CBS News.