Could a low-carb diet shorten your life?

Do you need these carbs?

Do you need some daily carbs?

A new study suggesting that a low-carb diet could shorten your life is all over media today. As usual when it comes to this kind of news piece, it is only based on food questionnaires (from 1987 to 1989 in this case), it’s just a statistical correlation, and it can’t – as the authors themselves say – prove anything.

Furthermore, as has been found in similar studies before, the correlation is not to low carb per se. Because people who eat a low-carb diet based mainly on plant sources have a longer average life than people eating higher-carb diets. So it’s only when looking at people eating higher-fat, meat-heavy diets that there’s a correlation:

Our data suggests that animal-based low carbohydrate diets, which are prevalent in North America and Europe, might be associated with shorter overall life span and should be discouraged.

Many similar studies have been published over the years with similar results. There are all kinds of huge weaknesses with them. The group of people who ate plenty of meat and fat during the 80s in the US – at the height of the fat phobia – appears on average not to have cared much about any healthy lifestyle advice. They smoked more, exercised less, consumed more alcohol, had a higher weight and more often diabetes, etc.

When these statistical studies find a link between a shorter life and a higher-fat, higher-meat diet, that diet often ends up getting blamed for everything, despite the study being completely unable to say what caused what (perhaps it was the smoking, drinking, driving fast, not exercising – who knows?).1

To conclude, the study is based on observational associations, that really can’t prove anything. Yes, people ignoring dietary advice, perhaps eating a “higher-fat” diet at McDonalds etc., or simply not caring about health advice in general, might be more likely to die a few years earlier. But this does not mean that the same applies to people who eat a healthy low-carb diet by choice – that’s a very different thing! And however anyone feels about it, no matter our bias, this study is just based on statistics and it simply can’t prove anything either way.

So how did the media do this time? The headlines below are actually pretty decent today, using words like “could”, “linked to” etc., with only one exception. CNN shows their ignorance with a headline that is simply incorrect, by using causal language. Sorry CNN, you may want to send your editors back to science class 101.

 
Most importantly, when looking beyond these weak statistical studies to higher-quality intervention trials (you know, where people actually try a low-carb diet), low-carb diets regularly result in more weight loss and improved health markers compared to other diets (list of studies and findings). And – important to at least one person – that’s what happened for me as well.

Added

Dr. Aseem Malhotra does a good job commenting on the study for BBC World News:

Earlier

Do unhealthy meat eaters live shorter lives?

Who is to blame for the obesity epidemic?

Why is there an obesity epidemic among Thai monks?

Low carb

  1. Sure, the studies do try to adjust for other differences between the groups, but that introduces even more uncertainty, plus it’s impossible to correct for everything.

56 comments

Top comments

  1. David Smith
    Donald Trump is right Most of what is presented as news is actually fake news as this article confirms
    Replies: #40, #48
    Read more →
  2. Terry
    I just read the article in The Guardian last night. As a long time low carb eater I remember when similar articles reporting on so-called studies where written about the Atkins diet. With Atkins it was generally "nutritionists" defending their long held incorrect beliefs, the status quo and their profession. Eventually the negative press on Atkins seemed to end the fad but not the trend to lower carb diets. Now here I am 15 years later even lower carb on keto, healthier than I've ever been in my life and here comes the negs again.

    I sincerely hope what we're hearing this time around is the death rattle of "conventional wisdom" on nutrition. With the number of medical professionals that finally seem to be getting on board and not just talking about the benefits of low carb eating but also promoting it I think it might just be the case.

    Replies: #6, #43
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All comments

  1. Terry
    I just read the article in The Guardian last night. As a long time low carb eater I remember when similar articles reporting on so-called studies where written about the Atkins diet. With Atkins it was generally "nutritionists" defending their long held incorrect beliefs, the status quo and their profession. Eventually the negative press on Atkins seemed to end the fad but not the trend to lower carb diets. Now here I am 15 years later even lower carb on keto, healthier than I've ever been in my life and here comes the negs again.

    I sincerely hope what we're hearing this time around is the death rattle of "conventional wisdom" on nutrition. With the number of medical professionals that finally seem to be getting on board and not just talking about the benefits of low carb eating but also promoting it I think it might just be the case.

    Replies: #6, #43
  2. Jonda
    Very well said, Terry! My hope also!
  3. Belinda
    The study is based on what they ate from 1987-1989? What about what they ate from 1989 to present?
  4. Arun Kumar Lal
    I see the whores are at it again. Just watched John Ioannidis give a talk about bad, biased, unethical research. This junk qualifies. Funny, Walter Willet kinda challenged him and lo and behold here's good 'ol Wally as one of the authors:-) You can't make this s#!@ up!
  5. Kenrick
    Yes I agree with Terry too ...I think when studies like this hit the headlines time to scratch below the surface ...and lo...it appears to start evidencing the strong level of fear amoungst the pharmacuticals ( no money in dietary change to treat T2 diabetes or lowering of hypertension or improved lipid markers etc ) ...many food producers are seeing a drop in wheat, soy consumption and prices ...potato sales, margarine sales dropping well actually plummeting in the case of margarine ( poor old Unilever ) ...also it’s funny how the diet they recommend is also based on foods produced by industries that receive huge government subsidies ...hmmmm...no conflict of interest their then lol...

    Many members of NIH committee are either vegans or vegetarians who so much want to push the ‘healthy whole grain’ agenda ...but let us not forget they are are prepared to offer us free bonus ingredient now ‘glysophate’ ...yummy !

    Again as has been said ...it’s an association not causation ...and a very weak association at that ...so yet again another poor published study peddled by the press as the definitive last word on low Carb ...oh my what am I to do ?

    I have read soooooo many studies ( and understand them ) and as I follow a keto protocol and have for over 6 yrs so far nothing published especially association studies would convince me my regime is unhealthy... in fact the total opposite ...I have, along with my wife, never been healthier ...

    Incidentally, I now eat more vegetables a day than I ever used to eat on a low fat high carb diet ...unfortunately the Guardian reporter stated stated that Keto was ‘minimal vegetables’ ...don’t know what well formulated keto protocol she was reading about but mine is packed with vegetable goodness ...just not starchy ones or ones filled with fructose in the case of fruit ...no scurvy in this house though lack of vitamin C ...BTW...lol

    Ric

  6. Tina
    Hi Terry,

    Thanks for the info. I see you're a long term low carber. What effect has this had on cholesterol, if that's relevant to you? I'm Inna battle with my GP who says mine is slightly elevated due to low carb. I believe it's hereditary.

    Replies: #7, #26
  7. MARK
    Why do you care? Cholesterol is essential for life and "associated" with longevity especially in older women.
    Reply: #11
  8. Lynn
    Tina, I've been on low-carb for just over a year. I am 70 now. My bad cholesterol (which wasn't too bad anyway) has gone down and my good cholesterol has improved. Because I've been T2 diabetic since March 2017, I have had blood tests every three months and all my results have shown great improvement. My A1C is also in the normal range now. Because of that, even though my Diabetic Educator told me NOT to give up anything, she has let me have the summer off without needing to go in for tests - because she is impressed with how things are going and she said she can trust me. My doctor also told me I'm doing excellent. These are medical professionals who are against Keto and low-carb (so far). I'm hoping that they sit up and take notice and maybe start checking things out to help others. I am also feeling so much better than I have for many years. I decided it was time to take care of my own health. I have friends who are on massive doses of insulin, go up and down like yo-yos, but won't try low-carb because their specialist said NO! Of course not, he won't make any money if they accidentally get healthy. I feel bad for them, but I can't change them. I can only take care of myself. Good luck!!
  9. John Scientist
    This study is garbage. Enough to look at how they define low carb:: "low carbohydrate consumption (<40%)". This study did NOT focus on people who are really eating low carbohydrate diets like the Ketogenic diet. Simply people who eat slightly less carbohydrates than others. There are multiple other flaws but since this is a non-specialist outlet I will stop here.
  10. Leo
    What would you expect from fake news CNN?
  11. Linda McDonald

    Why do you care? Cholesterol is essential for life and "associated" with longevity especially in older women.

    I agree! My "total cholesterol" is now over 300, highest it's ever been. Been keto for one year now. I'm 5'6", weigh 120 pounds, feel great! I am 62 years old by the way. Oh and my vldl, which is the only one that we should even concern ourselves with is 8 and triglycerides are 40! I take zero prescription meds also, accept for bioidentical hormones. 😊

    Reply: #45
  12. Alain
    Let them believe what they want.

    Humain have evolved in a low carb environnement.

    It is only when agriculture starded 10 000 years ago that we started to eat more carbs and then health problems followed.

    Now, with the SAD diet, it is almost only carbs and there are deseases everywhere.

    The final decision is personnal, eat junk and have a miserable life scattered with health problems, visits to the doctor and the drug store.

  13. Ken
    Tomorrow's chip paper reporting... my LCHF diet cured my: diabetes, NAFLD, obesity, immunosuppression, rotten 'pig slurry' bowel habit and low mood. I think I'll take my chances that the story is based on bollock all science.
  14. Adam
    Those are "decent" headlines? Still sounds like blatant fear-mongering to me.

    This is one of the most frustrating things I deal with as one who coaches loved ones on implementing LCHF. I can spend hours, days, weeks explaining well-supported mechanisms and rationales and meal plans; they see both my success and their own--and then one of these recycled Walter Willett hatchet jobs comes along, trumpeted by major media, and it's tailspin time again.

  15. Mia babbitt
    I am on the Keto diet, and I think it's a good thing but I have to admit that I'm concerned about the fat. I am 78 yes old, diabetic and have heart problems, I have 3 agents and have had a very mild heart attack, yr, 2000, I am considering adding a small at of carbs, my cardiologist old Keto. Any thoughts?
    Replies: #33, #46
  16. ,mia
    Mia correction-my cardiologist approved keto
  17. Ivars
    If it weren't for the fact that this "study" appeared in an offshoot of The Lancet it could quite easily be dismissed as a typical example of the post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy. My understanding is that this is a reputable journal which publishes peer reviewed work and should not be subject to such a fundamental error. Further examination however reveals significant caveats:

    From https://eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2018-08/tl-tlp081518.php :

    “The findings show observational associations rather than cause and effect.”

    Enough said but there's more!

    “.... the authors highlight that .... dietary patterns could change over 25 years, which might make the reported effect of carbohydrate consumption on lifespan less certain.”

    "While a randomized trial has not been performed to compare the longer term effects of different types of low carbohydrate diets ....”

    “.... given the relatively small number of individuals following plant-based low-carb diets, further research is needed.”

    “.... moderate intake of carbohydrate .... is likely to be more appropriate for the GENERAL POPULATION [my emphasis] than are very low or very high intakes."

    So we have people with a particular set of beliefs who look at data and see relationships where probably there are none. I would have more respect for the authors had the effect of their beliefs based on “observational associations” had a positive effect over the years. Given the “obesity epidemic” confronting us and the mistreatment of sufferers of this condition based on the beliefs of people such as these, I for one am no longer interested in listening to them.

  18. Shoshana
    Keto for life...even if it is shortened! Which is absolute bull! I laugh every time I read an article that animal fat is bad and eat carbs. They'll say anything to scare us and get their hands back in our pockets! They want us to stay sick and fat! The right foods cure...let our bodies do what its suppose to do!
  19. Madelein
    I see CNN changed the heading this morning to "Do low-carb diets cut lifespans"

    One thing that also bears mentioning again is that people were asked what they remembered eating. Most people can't remember what they had for dinner the night before let alone complete a questionnaire on what they ate over a period of time.

    Not to even mention general lack of understanding of the different macro nutrients in the public at large.

  20. Allan
    So much of these studies are summed up by ... "confirmation bias"
    In short there is too much feeling and thinking and not enough following the evidence over the long term.

    I have diabetes (I am not a diabetic - that means I am a disease which is what people want us to be) and my Endocrinologist set out a dietary regime ... which I ignored having gone on LCHF. Saw him 6 months later and he said see that made a big difference. I handed him my last 30 days food list. He said bulltish I replied well that bulltish worked as you raved about the results.

    Good food is cheap medicine ... big pharma and who they pay (some nutritionists, diabetes educators, doctors) would rather we didn't know about this dietary framework.

    Reply: #49
  21. David Smith
    Donald Trump is right Most of what is presented as news is actually fake news as this article confirms
    Replies: #40, #48
  22. Matej Lutar
    Obviously, there is a very strong fear of the decline in sales of high carbohydrated products. This is not a news but a masked advertising message!
  23. Eric Croswell
    What a load of dog crap.. eat my butt or don't eat my butt and you will die sooner. Whoever listens to this is an idiotic. You will die sooner from being over weight or from DM2. WHO BELIEVES THIS PHARMA-CRAP?
  24. Malcolm
    I will take my chances on the LCHF eating. Who wants a long sedintary life with loads of health issues? As a 71 year old competitive cyclist I recently completed a 175km event on zero carbs and just felt stronger as the day progressed. When other guys my age discuss their huge pile of daily meds, I tell them the only thing I take for my health is one bicycle four times a week.
  25. TAB
    Propagated BS stimulated by food and medical industry to keep people spending and keep
    People sick ..
  26. Terry

    Hi Terry,
    Thanks for the info. I see you're a long term low carber. What effect has this had on cholesterol, if that's relevant to you? I'm Inna battle with my GP who says mine is slightly elevated due to low carb. I believe it's hereditary.

    Hi Tina,

    Just so happens I had a Lipid panel on Wednesday. Hopefully this screenshot posts.

    Reply: #27
  27. Terry
    Guess the img tag isn't recognized in the comments. Anyway all was in the normal range.

    Here's a dropbox link to the screenshot. https://www.dropbox.com/s/xp9v5c6w3qtq34j/Lipid%20Panel_8-15-18.PNG?dl=0

  28. 1 comment removed
  29. Lyn
    When I saw this pop up, the heading said LCHF could decrease your lifespan by four years. I wondered how the researchers knew what the original life-span of these individuals was supposed to be! My reaction to the fleeting panic the headlines induced in me was, "Well, if I live four years less without dementia rather than however many years with dementia, from which my mother suffered and later my dad, then I will have a happy quality of life here on earth!" And to tell you the truth, I am really looking forward to my next phase of life beyond earth, when I won't have to worry about food and what all the researchers are telling me I should consume! In the meantime, when you find an eating program which allows you to enjoy butter, go for it!
  30. Debbie
    Are they running out of real news stories? I have been on a Keto eating plan for 3 months and have been amazed by the results. In the past 10 years, I have worked within the fitness industry and they are still advocating that you need to eat lots of carbs to give you energy. I have completely had a change of mindset and loving eating full-fat yogurt, cream, cheese and eggs all the things I was omitting previously, long may it continue.
  31. Maurice
    I would never do anything to shorten my life. That's why I surf, swim, cycle, rock climb and follow LCHF lifestyle (for nearly 3 years - not going back).
  32. Victor
    Sadly, one more display of how little of a science the so called modern nutrition science is. I'm appalled to think of the number of similar studies vainly trying to prove again and again what has been multiply disproved.
  33. Niclas Henschen
    Hi!
    Have you thought about the "protein to energy ratio" were energy stands for fat and carbohydrate. See for example Ted Naiman (https://www.dietdoctor.com/dr-ted-naiman-ketosis-and-a-diet-rich-in-protein). Maybe more protein is a solution if you are concerned about the fat?
  34. Becky
    The sugar and pharmaceutical industries are scared. They should be!
  35. Paul Taylor
    Then again, a high saturated fat diet plus lots of carbs will shorten life!
    Reply: #37
  36. karen
    Terry, your blood work is wonderful! I hope by staying on a low carb diet my bloodwork will improve!
  37. Niclas Henschen
    Don't you think that fat from highly processed seed oils are of bigger concerns than naturally produced saturated ditto?
  38. Bernie
    I don't believe that CNN is fake news. That is a "Trump" expression for people who don't agree with him. The sooner he is locked up the better US will be. (sorry for the politics here)

    As far as the keto diet is concerned I find it unbelievable. My husband and I are doing marvelous on it, and my doctor has said to me, (a high cholesterol pigeon that I am) that whatever works to reduce the weight is what we call successful. He hardly ever requisitions my cholesterol any more. My BP has decreased as well as my husbands and we feel fantastic.

    I must say we are eating "good" healthy food, not processed foods or McDonald's but good fats such as Udo's Oil, fish oil, and coconut oil to get our fat in. We also eat as much organic as possible. Keeping track on my Keto tracker is the key for us.

    I am grateful for the inflammation decrease - which I blame on "sugar" and I have more energy!! I agree the pharmacies are probably freaking out, and still buying our drugs from China which are being recalled every second day here.

  39. Farris
    Sarah Ballantyne disagrees with all of you commenting. Never heard a rebuttal from our esteemed doctors here.
  40. Abdi
    OOOOOH Hell no, and cut the crap he is more fake than any news there is and a liar. this article only talked about a scientific fact that they did not get it right but this !@#$%^& is the worst in any way you look @ him so stop giving this "Moron" any credit and keep your political crap ideas to yourself.
  41. Tee
    I find that this is very primitive in the way we assess calories. What I noticed is grams intake end up EXACTLY on the scale, whether more or less. I think the way we look at calories should be revised and that not in calories but rather gram intake when it comes to food we consume. There have been studies issued recently to promote that. Re-education is necessary , I will do Keto the way that fits into my lifestyle, cutting carbs, sugars and staying on a protein intake for endomotph bodies that is important. Ur preaching to the converted, however u need to convert the approach as it does not work for everyone.
  42. Paul
    I think it's like anything else, don't believe everything you read. Be an informed person, do your due diligence and make an informed decision. Let's face it, the internet has opened up a pandora's box of "facts" for the sake of money.

    Slow down, do the research and ask 2 simple questions;
    Who's it coming from?
    Are they credible and why?

    News sources may not be the best option, so instead, dig into the study and reference they use and see what it actually says. much of the time you will fine that they have decided to interpret things for a headline, but basically misrepresented a published article.

    Here are my facts. After getting in Ketosis, (it took 2 weeks and meeting prior with a Dr and got his agreement) I've never felt better. I've lost 12 lbs, my BP is down, I sleep better, my mind feels more alert at work and I have more energy. I actually feel younger and I'm 56.

    Investigate before you capitulate.

  43. Victoria
    Ditto!!
  44. Peter Leid
    Just think what main stream media are 'spokespeople for defending' in terms of drugs and food... EVERYTHING THEY HAVE is at risk if the low carb keto story holds out and becomes so dominant that the world's population switches food preferences, in the name of good health and subsequent longevity... the food industry will have to retool and the drug industry will be forced to study conditions that have nothing to do with insulin resistance... every chronic condition we know today from obesity & diabetes all the way through cardiovascular to cancer, dementia and Alzheimers... just about 90+% of the current pharma business. it's up to us to maximise the bottom up movement.
  45. Suska
    Make sure you do Coronary Artery Test to find out if your Heart blood vessels are in normal state....If you do have clogged arteries then get Chelation Therapy....
  46. Suska
    As long as you FAST for 18-30 Hours after big meal you shouldn't have problems with FAT....If you don't fast you will get Fatty liver....Heart is a muscle so do everyday walking for 30 mins and you will see you heart is pumping more bloods to your body....
  47. Frances
    I just finished reading Tripping over the Truth by Travis Christofferson about the metabolic cause of cancer and the cure ... ketogenic diet!! This can be used along with orthodox treatment (but why would you).
  48. Kristopher K
    Please don't sully the argument with bringing up the Con-man Trump. He's on his way out of office and perhaps a nice indictment. Keto and the principles of real food should not be in the same thought as a fraud.
  49. Gaye
    Love this. I hope the endocrinologist was sufficiently embarrassed! I have been LCHF for 3 months now and have lost 22lbs. No idea what my cholesterol was or is, but to be honest I feel fab and that's what's important to me.
  50. Karen
    Well, you know what, we're all going to die at some point!! The beauty of Life is living it the best way we can on all levels. My quality of life has increased impressively since eating Keto, low carb. My cholesterol is a big mess, but my other measurements are improving by the day ..... weight loss, less chronic pain, far less inflammation (I have Rheumatoid Arthritis) my stress has reduced because it is SO easy to prepare food and far less expensive and frankly my self esteem has rocketed by escaping my self-imposed 'fat-woman-failure' mentality. If I live to be 79 or 83 or whatever, I'm living it in an informed way that suits ME!!
  51. Rosemary
    Thank you for addressing this. I was pretty sure the information in Lancet article could be dispelled. Fake news is prevalent everywhere! I would not be surprised if one of the big food corporations didn't pay someone to broadcast this news as much as possible, because I feel sure the new wave of eating responsibly, keto, paleo, etc., are all having an effect on their bottom line.
  52. Gavin
    I read the study and irrespective of any other problems it has (which are many and varied) they used a simple 61 question dietary questionnaire to determine food consumption at the start of the study and again at year six.

    They have no idea what the study participants have been eating for the last 19 years because they did not bother to ask them - unbelievable really.

    The study is of course filled with reams of "impressive" statistical guff which actually means nothing when the raw data is was applied to was questionable at best and 19 years out of date - garbage in garbage out

  53. 1 comment removed
  54. Peter
    I'm on day 9 of my Keto journey. On Day 2, I accidentally measured my blood sugar after drinking some fruit juice. I was surprised to see 92 mg/dl pop up on the meter. That night I took 1000 mg of Metformin. The next morning, Day 3, my blood sugar was 69 mg/dl! I stopped taking the Metformin, and my blood sugar has been less than 95 mg/dl every morning. I started taking Metformin on 2009. 9 years of taking that medicine, and my type 2 diabetes was reversed in 2 days on this diet! Surely that's not going to kill me sooner then remaining a diabetic.
  55. Guy
    I have been on the Keto Diet and have been Fasting for 23 1/2 hours every day for the past month. I feel fantastic!!! I plan on being LCHF and IF for life! The big food and pharmaceutical companies are running scared! I am passing the good news on to everyone I know here in Gatineau, Québec!

    Au revoir!

    Guy

  56. Shanka
    The news is running with the low carb and mortality story... This one talks about safely coming off keto in 7 easy steps
    https://amp.thisisinsider.com/tips-going-off-keto-2018-9

    How do you all counter this? Considering low carb works very well for lots of people. Are there country research articles in the media?

  57. Stephen
    Please ... could everyone use SI units, as utilised in Canada and Mexico (I think), Europe and almost the entire rest of the world except the USA?

    I understand well that my total cholesterol (TC) is 5.1 mmol/l and of this the HDL is 2.0. The overall situation seems to be fairly healthy for age 65.

    Sorry but I wouldn't have a clue what my TC or HDL are in your units. Nor do I understand US quoted vitamin D or triglyceride levels. It's more than my middle-aged brain wants to deal with.

    Thanks.

    By the way, I'm a thin person who struggles to gain weight but just wants to stay healthy. Longevity is said to be linked to strength and hence muscle mass. Yet for thin people, maintaining muscle definitely needs some Cs.

    I react to any discussion of 'weight gain' by thinking 'I'd like some of that'. I feel sorry for people who gain too much weight but I still wonder if I'm doing the right thing even by eating moderately LC @~125-150 g/day.

    My formerly plump friends are often on 25-50 g/day yet weigh more than I do. I tried going lower, on their advice, but started to lose muscle mass and couldn't exercise as before. Apparently I can't cope with VLC.

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