For decades, many people have turned to low-carbohydrate, high-fat diets (such as Atkins) as a way to lose a large amount of weight in a short period of time. Recent research has indicated that low-carbohydrate diets with increased meat consumption do lead to weight loss, in addition to improved insulin resistance, an increase in heart-protective high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, and a reduction in triglycerides. One would expect, then, that this diet is the answer to weight loss and heart protection, if it weren’t for one major problem: traditional low-carbohydrate diets lead to increases in artery-clogging low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol.
Researchers from the University of Toronto tested to see if replacing the high-fat meats in low-carbohydrate diets with sources of vegetarian plant protein (gluten, soy, wheat, fruits, vegetables, vegetable oils, cereals and beans) may have similar weight loss and lipid changes, but a more favorable effect on LDL. They placed overweight men and women with elevated LDL on two diets: 22 followed the “Eco” Atkins diet for four weeks; another 22 followed a high-carbohydrate, low-fat, lacto-ovo vegetarian diet for four weeks. Study foods provided 60 percent of the participants estimated calorie requirements.
Both groups lost a similar amount of weight, an average 8.8 pounds, in four weeks. However, reductions in LDL and the ratios between total cholesterol and HDL were greater for the low-carbohydrate diet compared to the high-carbohydrate diet. The low-carbohydrate diet also showed beneficial changes in the levels of apolipoproteins, which are associated with heart disease. Small but statistically significant improvements were also seen in blood pressure for the low-carbohydrate versus high-carbohydrate group.
More research is needed in this area, but the idea behind replacing high-fat meats with plant sources is holding much promise in the cardiovascular world. Americans sorely lag behind on their intake of plant foods, like nuts, vegetables, fruits and whole grains, This research shows that making changes, even small ones such as replacing vegetarian plant sources of protein for animal sources, is a good first step towards improved heart health.
Reference: David J. A. Jenkins; Julia M. W. Wong; Cyril W. C. Kendall; Amin Esfahani; Vivian W. Y. Ng; Tracy C. K. Leong; Dorothea A. Faulkner; Ed Vidgen; Kathryn A. Greaves; Gregory Paul; William Singer. The Effect of a Plant-Based Low-Carbohydrate ('Eco-Atkins') Diet on Body Weight and Blood Lipid Concentrations in Hyperlipidemic Subjects. Archives of Internal Medicine, 2009; 169 (11): 1046
Written by Melissa Ohlson, MS, RD, LD, Preventive Cardiology and Rehabilitation.
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