A robust new study coming out of Malaysia has found that restricting carbs may have a greater benefit to heart health than restricting total fat consumption. This may be shocking news to many. For decades, some health professionals have suggested cutting back on fats, especially saturated fat, to support heart health. This research shows that total fat consumption has little-to-no impact.
The study, “A Cross-Sectional Study on the Dietary Pattern Impact on Cardiovascular Disease Biomarkers in Malaysia”, was published in the journal Scientific Reports, part of the prestigious Nature publication group. It examined how diet patterns, lifestyle, genetics, age and socioeconomic factors affect heart disease risk. What sets this Malaysian study apart is the use of cutting-edge cardiovascular risk indicators, including LDL particle size, insulin resistance and advanced inflammatory markers.
The researchers evaluated 577 healthy, physically active urban Malaysians between the ages of 20 and 65. None of the participants smoked or consumed alcohol. Almost 60% were white-collar professionals. All were free of diabetes, hypertension, coronary heart disease, stroke, cancer, renal failure and hypothyroidism.
The researchers divided the group into four categories, based on their dietary patterns: low carb- low fat, low carb-high fat, high carb-low fat and high carb-low fat. They also looked closely at the type of fat the participants used. According to the study’s senior author, Dr. Kalyana Sundram, oversimplification of macronutrients as good or bad has set the tone for clinicians and the public to adopt diets that may do more harm than good.
The overwhelming majority of study participants (484 or 83.0%) consumed meals prepared with palm oil/palm olein, which is a balance of 50% saturated fat and 50% polyunsaturated and unsaturated fat. The remaining participants reported consuming other more unsaturated vegetable oils such as sunflower, canola, corn or olive oil.
If you remember the “low-fat craze”, you might predict that those following low-fat diets would have better cholesterol profiles compared with those eating high-fat diets. That did not happen in this study. It was those eating a higher proportion of carbs that had worse outcomes.
“Our study found that higher proportions of carbohydrates in the diet tend to be associated with elevated levels of multiple cardiovascular disease risk factors including dyslipidemia (defined as high triglycerides, elevated total or bad LDL cholesterol or low levels of the good HDL cholesterol), high blood pressure and plaque-promoting small LDL cholesterol particles,” said Sundram. He added that, “Higher proportions of dietary fat intake were not associated with elevating these risk factors.”
Given this emerging evidence, Sundram concluded that it may be time to reassess our traditional understanding of how diet impacts our risk factors for heart disease and other chronic illnesses.