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What Counts as a ‘Low Carb’ Diet and Is It Right for You?

Feb. 7, 2024 — Atkins, keto, the Zone, the paleo diet – it seems like low-carb diets have been around forever, and they’ve only grown in popularity over the years. But despite their renown, it remains unclear what exactly “low carb” really means. 

A study recently published in Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition analyzed over 500 articles about low-carb diets and found that, among the scientific community, there remains a real discrepancy about what “low carb” means. 

The study’s principal investigator, Taylor Wallace, PhD, CEO of Think Healthy Group and an adjunct professor of nutrition and food studies at George Mason University, said that given the sheer amount of research that has been put into studying low-carb diets, it’s striking that we don’t have a clear definition. 

The range of evaluated studies – all published between 2002 and 2022 – found that most trials defined low-carb as having 100 grams or less of carbohydrates daily. But many also had much stricter definitions, with carbs taking up only 40-60 grams per day. 

The variability, Wallace said, should underline the fact that low-carb diets might not be right for everyone. 

“There’s a lot of data that shows that low-carb diets work in cases like diabetes and weight loss,” said Wallace. “But I also think that there’s a lot that we don’t know, and we shouldn’t overstep to ‘Eat as much saturated fat as you want, it doesn’t matter as long as you’re on a low-carb diet.’ That’s a little bit out there for me.” 

The other issue Wallace pointed out was that most of the studies did not examine participants beyond the 6-month point, which doesn’t shed light on how sustainable these meal plans are in the long term

A systematic review and meta-analysis

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Can a diet help you live 10 years longer?

Spare a thought for the billionaires of Silicon Valley. While the rest of us have been coming to terms with a weekly food shop that’s inflating quicker than the ego of an Apprentice contestant, they’ve been engaged in a cost-of-living crisis of their own.

From shelling out £7000 to have the contents of their brains uploaded to the cloud after they die (CEO of OpenAI Sam Altman) to parting with up to £170,000 to have bodies cryogenically frozen in liquid nitrogen (Peter Thiel, co-founder of PayPal) it seems the race to live forever is alive and well – if only you can afford to compete.

But while they were re-writing cheques and logic (anyone know how to defrost a body?) researchers were cooking up a more accessible solution.

In a paper published in the journal Cell, biologist Valter Longo examined a century of research on the influence of nutrition on ageing. As director of the Longevity Institute in California and professor of gerontology (the study of ageing), Longo has spent his career unpicking the mechanics of what was once deemed pot luck – your endpoint.

Now, he’s built a blueprint. Dubbed the longevity diet, he claims that by making subtle tweaks to both what and when you eat, you can increase your lifespan by up to 13 years. But will you be ordering from his menu?

PLATE EXPECTATIONS

Adjusting your nutrition to optimise your health: ground-breaking, it isn’t. And it’s true that much of the longevity research confirms what we already know about diets that are rich in fruit, vegetables, nuts, cereals, fish and unsaturated fats.

‘Diets which contain antioxidants, potassium and omega-3 support a reduction in cardiovascular disease and obesity risk, as well as protecting the brain from ageing,’ says Charlotte May, nutritional therapist and lead health coach

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