What giving up fats and carbs does to your life expectancy

Which is more important to you: having the “perfect” body or living a long and healthy life?

That’s the kind of question that can make you go hmmm… because if you listen to the fitness and diet gurus, you probably think that amounts to one in the same.

After all, a healthy weight equates to a healthy body and that should equate to a longer life.

But how you get there may not…

More and more science is proving that going to extremes with our food intake and living a long, healthy life are simply incompatible.

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Does restricting carbs and fat affect your lifespan?

Studies in Western countries suggest that going to extremes with carbohydrates and fats (either too much or too little) is associated with a higher risk of mortality.

But very little research has been done in East Asian populations on the connection between diet and life expectancy. This includes the Japanese, whose diet is typically low on fat and high on carbs.

This is what prompted researchers from Nagoya University Graduate School of Medicine to conduct a nine-year survey with 81,333 Japanese people (34,893 men and 46,440 women) as their subjects.

The aim was to evaluate the association between carbohydrate and fat intakes and the risk of mortality.

The quality of carbs (refined vs. minimally processed) and fats (saturated vs. unsaturated) was also examined.

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Men and women are different

Men who consumed less than 40% of their total energy from carbohydrates experienced significantly higher risks of all-cause and cancer-related mortality. (It didn’t matter whether they were eating refined or minimally processed carbs).

On the other hand, after a five-year follow-up, women with a high carbohydrate intake of more than 65% had a higher risk of all-cause mortality. Again, the distinction between refined or minimally processed carbs did not come into play.

For fats, men with a high fat intake of more than 35% of their total energy from fats had a higher risk of cancer-related mortality. Also, a low intake of unsaturated fat (think olive oil, fatty fish and walnuts) in men was associated with a higher risk of all-cause and cancer-related mortality.

In contrast, total fat intake and saturated fat intake in women showed an inverse association with the risk of all-cause and cancer-related mortality (the more they ate, the lower their risk was).

In summary:

  • A low carbohydrate intake in men and a high carbohydrate intake in women are associated with a higher risk of all-cause and cancer-related mortality. It looks like both men and women need to find a happy medium when it comes to carbs.
  • For women, higher fat intake may have a lower risk of all-cause mortality. Many women may be relieved, but men need to avoid high fat intake.

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What does this mean for you?

Extremely low-carbohydrate and low-fat diets are now popular dieting strategies aimed at improving health, including the management of metabolic syndrome.

But this research makes it apparent that going to extremes is not the best strategy for a long and healthy life.

In fact, A study that Dr. Elizabeth Klodas addressed looked at dietary patterns across the globe and found that what we’re not eating is detrimental to our health. That study found that in 2017 one in every five deaths could be attributed to diet.

Who was most at risk? People who didn’t get enough fruit or whole grains in their diet. So much for Keto or high-protein-focused eating plans, both of which shun grains and fruit.

Another large study discovered that people with higher levels of fatty acids because of their dairy intake had a lower risk of cardiovascular disease than those who’d been following low-fat advice. The researchers were also able to confirm their findings by combining these results with 17 other studies involving a total of almost 43,000 people from the US, Denmark and the UK. 

Some people may have specific health problems that may be improved by eating less of certain food groups. But evidence has certainly indicated over the years that extreme diets are not a panacea and now we’re learning they may shorten our lives.

It may sound old-school, but a balanced whole foods approach that focuses on quality (like a Mediterranean-style diet), moderation and omits ultra-processed foods (found to shorten telomeres and accelerate biological aging) appears to be a safer bet — and much easier to follow.

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Extreme dietary habits for carbohydrates and fats affect life expectancy — Science Daily

Dietary Carbohydrate and Fat Intakes and Risk of Mortality in the Japanese Population: the Japan Multi-Institutional Collaborative Cohort Study — The Journal of Nutrition

Intuitive eating: The anti-diet, or how pleasure from food is the answer, say its creators  — CNN

Joyce Hollman

By Joyce Hollman

Joyce Hollman is a writer based in Kennebunk, Maine, specializing in the medical/healthcare and natural/alternative health space. Health challenges of her own led Joyce on a journey to discover ways to feel better through organic living, utilizing natural health strategies. Now, practicing yoga and meditation, and working towards living in a chemical-free home, her experiences make her the perfect conduit to help others live and feel better naturally.