Is It Time to Retire the Low-Carb Diet “Fad”?

This is another special guest post from our favorite study-dismantler, Denise Minger . Read all of her previous Mark’s Daily Apple articles here , here , here , here and here , and pay her website a visit. Thanks, Denise, for clearing up the confusion once again!

Sweden is a land of many wonders – most of which put the USA to shame. They’ve got fjords, ABBA, and caviar in a tube. And while Americans get arrested for things like DUIs and stealing socks from Walmart , Swedes get arrested for the more admirable feat of smuggling butter .

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Such a delicious felony doesn’t reflect a life of crime so much as a life of fat – the edible kind. For nearly a decade, Sweden has been the unofficial headquarters of the Low Carb High Fat (LCHF) movement, churning out an unprecedented number of lipid lovers. In 2011, a whopping 25% of Sweden’s population was trying to eat more fat and curb their carbohydrate intake, with 5% of Swedes identifying as hardcore LCHF adherents. And those numbers only seem to be growing.

But a new study claims to cast doubt on the safety of Sweden’s fatward trend. In a paper published in Nutrition Journal last week ( PDF available here ), researchers linked the Swedish low-carb boom to rising cholesterol levels, increased heart disease risk, and failure to maintain long-term weight loss. A cascade of predictable headlines ensued, ranging from “ Atkins diet found to be bad for the heart ” to the brazen “ Time to retire the low-carb diet fad .” The latter article – a well-circulated piece from The Atlantic – gave low-carb fans a particularly snarky flogging:

Low carbohydrate evangelists will almost certainly attack today’s announcement – and perhaps this post – with biblical fury. They’ll make their usual claim: that this is yet another conspiracy of scientists who just don’t get it, scientists who don’t understand nutrition, scientists who somehow made it through their PhD’s and MD’s without knowing the first thing about how the human body works. But let’s face it – most of us know in our hearts that eschewing a breakfast of whole grains and fruit crowned with a dab of yogurt for a greasy pile of sausage, bacon, and eggs is not the road to health.

Ouch! Time to whip out the granola and Yoplait?

If something seems fishy about this study, it’s not just the lutfisk : as usual, there’s more going on (or in this case, less going on) than the alarmist media would suggest. Here’s the real scoop.

No Low Carb, No Heart Disease

First and foremost, this study has nothing to do with low carbers, or even heart disease: it’s an observational study of Swedes Not Further Specified (SNFS). Researchers pulled 25 years’ worth of data from 140,000 folks in the North Sweden Diet Database, averaged everyone’s food intake, averaged everyone’s total cholesterol, and made some pretty graphs.

The findings? Sweden’s fat consumption (as a percent of total energy) dropped between 1986 and 1991, held steady until about 2004, and then started rising; the inverse happened with carbs:

(In those early years, fat … Continue reading Is It Time to Retire the Low-Carb Diet “Fad”?