Carbs vs Fats: How to Cook the Numbers

August 4, 2015

There are lots of blogs and books that are citing the virtues of high carb, low fat diets. They point to many studies showing that carbs reduce health risks and fats raise them. It is a sleight of hand. Here's how it's done, in reverse:

 

Carbohydrates lead to higher risk of metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, inflammation and cardiovascular disease according to a study in the journal Circulation (Circulation. 2010; 121: 1356-1364).

 

See, that seems authoritative, doesn't it? A very conventional journal published a study linking carbohydrates with all these health problems. Here's the sleight: that study is looking specifically at sugar and fructose intake, not at healthy carbs like broccoli and lettuce. But they are all carbs, so a headline or a blog that doesn't differentiate can say that carbs lead to these risks.

 

A donut and a stalk of celery are both accurately described as a carbohydrate, but obviously they have different effects on the body.

 

The rancid oil you smell when you walk into a fast food restaurant, and organic coconut oil or unheated cold-pressed flax oil are all accurately described as fat, but their effects on the body are totally different and opposite.

 

Those making the case that high-carb diets are good for you are referring to studies of high-vegetable and high-fruit diets. When looking at the effect of high fat diets, what kinds of fats do you think are being studied? Studies look at the standard American diet and the fat content there. What is that? Grain-fed beef (which has inflammatory, unhealthy oils), rancid fast-food vegetable oils, canola used for home cooking, etc. These are all inflammatory oils, and would all be expected to increase health risks.

 

Grass-fed beef contains healthy omega-3 oils and cancer-fighting CLA oil. Another high-fat diet, such as that eaten by the Inuit, contains lots of cold-water fish, and it lowers cardiovascular disease. Even NPR is reporting the news that diets high in dairy fat lead to less health risk than diets low in dairy fat.

 

It is certain that if we compare a diet high in vegetables to a diet high in vegetable fats, the "high carb diet" will look impressively healthy. But study after study after study is showing that our bodies thrive on healthy oils, and a diet that optimizes intake of these while minimizing carbs and vegetable oils (omega-6) is great for overall health.

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