Low-fat diet may not increase diabetes risks
Jun 8, 2011, 2:20 p.m.
By Genevra Pittman
NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - While the low-fat diet craze led some doctors to worry that Americans would instead start eating too many carbohydrates, a new study suggests that eating low-fat doesn't have to increase carbohydrate-fueled health risks.
Instead, if extra carbohydrates are part of a diet plan that includes more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, the risk of diabetes - the biggest related health concern -- could actually drop, at least in older women, according to the findings.
However, a low-fat, high-carbohydrate diet could create problems in people who already have diabetes, researchers caution.
"Generally when people reduce the fat in the diet they replace it with carbohydrates," study author Dr. James Shikany told Reuters Health. "There was some concern that the increased carbohydrate intake might lead to if not increased diabetes itself...changes that over time could lead to diabetes."
"We had been telling women to decrease their fat intake for a long time and we really didn't know the possible effects this would have" on diabetes, added Shikany, from the University of Alabama at Birmingham.
The results suggest that balancing both diabetes and other disease risks requires considering the kinds of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins we eat, researchers said, rather than just cutting back on one food group and eating more of another.
The study, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, included a group of about 2,300 postmenopausal women who were part of the Women's Health Initiative trial, which looked at the effect of diet and hormone therapy on disease risks.
About 900 of the women, selected randomly, were told to decrease their total fat intake so that fat accounted for about 20 percent of the calories in their diet. For a 2,000-calorie diet, that would mean eating 44 grams of fat each day.
As part of the new diet, women were also told to increase the number of fruit, vegetable, and grain servings they ate, and they attended regular sessions with nutritionists to help them do that.
The other 1,400 women, serving as a comparison group, were not given any extra nutritional guidance or told to change their diet.
The researchers followed women for the next 6 years with surveys on diet and exercise and also tested their blood for sugar and insulin levels to look for diabetes or its warning signs.
Women in the low-fat group, on average, said they got between 25 and 29 percent of their calories from fat in follow-up surveys. That compared to 36 to 37 percent in the group without a diet intervention.
U.S. government guidelines suggest adults get between 20 and 35 percent of their calories from fat.
The diet group also generally ate fewer total calories and more fruits, vegetables, grains, and sugar than the comparison group, on average.
After 1 year, women on the low-fat diet had lost more weight than the comparison group and had bigger decreases in their blood sugar and insulin levels. By 6 years, the groups looked similar on those measures. That told researchers that the lower-fat, higher-carbohydrate diet hadn't increased women's chances of getting diabetes.
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