TORONTOIndividuals who consume a low-carbohydrate vegan diet containing increased protein and fat from gluten and soy products, nuts and vegetables may improve their weight-loss efforts while at the same time lower their low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, according to a new study published in the BMJ Open.
The 6-month study evaluated 39 adult participants (19 control and 20 test participants) and was conducted at a Canadian university-affiliated hospital nutrition research center from April 2005 to November 2006. All participants had high normal to raised LDL cholesterol levels (>3.4 mmol/L at diagnosis) and a body mass index (BMI) >27. Prior to starting, and for the duration of the study, participants who had been taking lipid lowering medications discontinued their use.
The researchers found that the participants who consumed a low-carbohydrate vegan diet saw a greater weight loss compared to those who consumed a high-carbohydrate vegetarian diet that included dairy and egg products (7% versus 6% weight reductions, respectively). In addition, participants following the low-carbohydrate diet achieved reductions of LDL cholesterol concentrations (9%), the “bad" cholesterol that can cause arteries plaque build-up and lead to increased risk of a heart attack. Furthermore, improvements in triglyceride reductions (-0.34 mmol/L) and total cholesterol (-0.62 mmol/L) were noted in the low-carbohydrate diet. There was no treatment difference seen in high-density lipoprotein cholesterol levels.
“The outcomes of this study show that complementing a low-carbohydrate weight-loss diet with vegetable sources of protein, such as gluten, soy, and nuts, ultimately results in greater cardiovascular benefitssomething that hasn’t been shown with low-carbohydrate diets alone," the researchers said. “Many well-known weight loss plans focus on limiting carbohydrate intake; and while this can be an effective way to lose weight, replacing caloric intake with proteins from animal products that are often high in saturated fats is not an ideal long-term solution for people who already have higher cholesterol levels."
Low-carb diets, such as Atkins, became popular in the U.S. more than a decade ago as a means to help lose weight and keep diabetes at bay. And for quite a few years, low-carb foods and beverages were the rage before leveling off in the past few years. However, with more and more scientific research pointing to low-carb diets as a way to decrease inflammation, reduce cardiovascular disease and reduce cancer risk, it will be interesting to see what new food and drink launches are coming down the pike and when. Just last year, Atkins introduced its own line of frozen meals to the U.S. marketplace, and has added new offerings over the past few months.
It is interesting to note that the low-carb trend is taking off in Europe. According to market research firm Mintel, new food and drink product launches with “low-carb" claims in Europe increased 95% between 2008 and 2013, suggesting the low-carb trend may be back in action and with support from high-protein claims. In fact, 10% of new low-carbohydrate food and drink launches were pasta products, 10% baking ingredients or mixes, 9% bread and 8% snack, cereal and energy bars. The top three countries in Europe for new low-carbohydrate food and drink product launches are France (17%) followed by Germany and Spain, accounting for 15% of NPD share respectively.
Interestingly, last year Sweden became the first Western nation to recommend a lower-carbohydrate, higher-fat diet to reduce the national prevalence of obesity and diabetes, and improve heart health.
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