A low-carb diet is better for your heart health and your waistline than a low-fat diet, a new study suggests.
An eating plan that reduces food such as sugary treats, pasta and bread was found to reduce more hidden fat deposits around the heart, a known risk factor for cardiovascular disease.
Israeli researchers also discovered that while people following both diets lost a similar amount of weight, those on a Mediterranean style low-carb plan had a lower waist circumference compared to those on a low-fat plan.
Furthermore, the findings suggest reducing carbohydrates could also increase levels of HDL (high density lipoprotein) or ‘good’ cholesterol.
It adds weight to the idea that people with type 2 diabetes could limit their risk for associated heart conditions and long-term complications by following a diet low in carbs.
The study was published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
Past research shows that the accumulation of fat in the heart, especially pericardial fat – a small lump of fatty tissue just on the outside of the heart – can increase risks of cardiovascular disease.
A team from the University of the Negev and Soroka University Medical Centre compared the effects of the two diets in an 18-month weight loss study involving 80 obese individuals.
The participants had high waist circumferences and high Body Mass Index (BMIs) at the start of the study. A whole-body MRI was carried out on them to quantify how much intrapericardial fat (IPF) and extrapericardial fat (EPF) they had.
The groups were then split into two and given different dietary plans to follow.
While both groups saw similar weight loss amount, the low-carb group had a lower waist circumference on average.
Excess abdominal fat – particularly visceral fat, the kind that surrounds your organs – is linked to increased risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes and some cancers.
The low-carb dieters showed a reduced IPF volume twice as much as the low-fat group.
Both diets were found to lower the amount of EPF in participants, but the change was again more pronounced in the low-carb group.
Reducing IPF was associated with a decrease in artery-clogging fats called triglycerides (TGs).
Decreases in EPF has been linked with an increase in ‘protective’ HDL cholesterol.
There were no differences in improvement to blood sugar levels between the groups, the researchers noted.