The most popular method in the United States for losing weight – low-carbohydrate diets – can reduce a person’s risk of developing heart disease, according to
a study conducted by a UConn researcher.
Jeff Volek, an assistant professor of kinesiology, reviewed more than a dozen clinical trials conducted since 2003 and examined low-carb diets and related risk
factors for cardiovascular disease.
His findings were published last year in the Journal of Nutrition, the official publication of the American Society for Nutritional Sciences.
Volek’s analysis found that very low-carb diets outperform low-fat diets in lowering triglyceride (fat in the blood) and increasing HDL (good cholesterol).
“This type of replication across studies performed at different institutions is rare, and it shows how robust and consistent the favorable effects of a low-carbohydrate diet really are,” says Volek,
a registered dietitian and a member of the UConn Human Performance Laboratory in the Neag School of Education.
During the last five years, Volek has published more than 10 of his own scientific studies specifically examining various aspects of low-carb diets and their connection
to heart disease.
Although a portion of his previous research has been funded by the Dr. Robert C. Atkins Foundation, the studies
he reviewed for this project were sponsored by a variety of federal and private sources.
According to Volek, recent research studies provide “impressive evidence” that the potential adverse effects of saturated fat
on risk for heart disease are only observed when carbohydrates
are present in moderate to large amounts. The reason for this,
he explains, is that the body processes saturated fat completely differently on a low-carbohydrate diet.
“It simply doesn’t have the same harmful effect,” he says.
|Jeff Volek, left, an assistant professor of kinesiology, has published a study of low-carb diets and related factors for cardiovascular disease, based on a review of more than a dozen clinical trials.
|Photo by Peter Morenus
The studies Volek reviewed show that low-carbohydrate diets not only improve triglycerides and HDL cholesterol, but also several other risk factors that lead to metabolic syndrome – a condition that puts an estimated 25 percent of adult Americans at a three-fold risk for cardiovascular disease.
His own research, along with those he reviewed, indicates that a low-carbohydrate diet improves all aspects of metabolic syndrome, while a high-carbohydrate diet, even if it’s very low in fat, exacerbates this disorder – unless the person loses significant amounts of weight or increases his or her activity level.
“Low-carbohydrate diets improve metabolic syndrome independent of weight loss and physical activity,” he says.
These scientifically proven facts about low-carb diets have been slow to reach health practitioners or have been ignored, according to Volek.
Yet there have been a number of new studies and papers that continue to have consistent findings. With this in mind, he was inspired to conduct his review study with the goal of better organizing the scientific evidence in a way that might more fully inform health practitioners.
Says Volek, “We hope to encourage health practitioners to at least consider low-carb diets as an option, rather than casually dismissing them.”