For at least several decades, there has been an ongoing debate among nutrition researchers about how much fat and carbohydrate you should include in your diet. Here at Diabetes Flashpoints, we’ve covered this controversy as it relates to both people with diabetes, specifically, and the wider population. We’ve also looked at the effects of two other major components of diets, protein and fruits and vegetables. When studies of this nature aren’t targeted toward people with diabetes, one common outcome that they measure is body weight lost or gained — something that’s important to many people for health reasons. But a new study looks at an even more consequential outcome: your risk of premature death.
Published late last month in the journal The Lancet, the study looked at over 135,000 participants in 18 countries for an average of 7.4 years. Participants’ food intake was measured using a validated questionnaire (one that has been compared with actual food intake in a smaller group to ensure that it produces accurate results), according to the percentage of calories provided by carbohydrate, protein, or fat. The researchers were most interested in looking at the effects of diet composition on overall risk of death, as well as major cardiovascular events like heart attack and stroke.
As noted in a HealthDay article on the study, the researchers found that a higher carbohydrate intake was associated with a higher overall risk of death — but not a higher risk of cardiovascular disease, or death from it. The risk of death in participants with the highest carbohydrate intake — the top fifth, with carbohydrates making up 77% of their diet — was 28% higher than in the fifth of participants with the lowest carbohydrate intake.
On the other hand, participants with the highest fat intake — making up 35% of their diet — were 23% less likely to die and 18% less likely to have a stroke during the study period. Intake of saturated fat was also found to be beneficial, with participants who consumed up to 13% of their diet as saturated fat having a lower risk of death than those who consumed less than 3%. According to the researchers, there was no evidence that a saturated fat intake to below 10% of total calories was beneficial, and an intake below 7% was potentially harmful.
While the study looked at overall carbohydrate, fat, and protein intake, it didn’t look at specific sources of these nutrients — a flaw pointed out in a commentary published along with the study. It’s impossible to know, then, whether the increased death risk associated with carbohydrates came from certain foods but not others, or whether the benefits of fats also came just from certain foods. One thing that the researchers did look at more specifically, though, was intake of fruits and vegetables — and here, they found that a higher intake was beneficial for longevity, but only up to about 3 or 4 servings each day.
What’s your take on this study — are you ready to cut down on carbs and embrace more fat in your diet? Do you have any idea what percentages of fat, protein, and carbohydrate your diet currently consists of? Would you like to see whether certain high-carb or high-fat foods are better than others before making major changes to your diet? Have you noticed that making changes in the major nutrients of your diet has any effect on your blood glucose levels? Leave a comment below!