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Low-Carb Diets Improve Cholesterol Long Term

Low-Carb Diet Edges Out Low-Fat Diet in Raising 'Good' Cholesterol
By
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

Aug. 2, 2010 -- Low-carbohydrate weight loss diets have an edge over low-fat diets for improving HDL cholesterol levels long term, according to a study funded by the National Institutes of Health.  

Dieters who followed low-carb or low-fat plans for two years along with a lifestyle modification program lost the same amount of weight -- on average about 7% of their body weight or 15 pounds.  

But throughout the two-year study, low-carbohydrate dieters had significantly increased HDL, or "good," cholesterol levels compared to low-fat dieters.  

Heart Risk Factors Improved

During the first six months of the study, the low-fat dieters had greater reductions in  LDL, or "bad," cholesterol, but the differences did not persist over time.

The study is not the first to suggest that low-carb weight loss programs like the Atkins diet are safe and may be slightly better than low-fat diets for reducing risk factors for heart disease.

But it is one of the longest to show this, says lead researcher Gary D. Foster, PhD, of Temple University’s Center for Obesity Research and Education.

Roughly three-fifths (58%) of the low-carb dieters and two-thirds (68%) of the low-fat dieters stayed on the respective diets for two years.

The study appears in the September issue of the journal Annals of Internal Medicine.

“For many years there have been concerns that the low-carbohydrate approach to weight loss was bad for the heart,” he says. “This study would suggest those concerns are largely unfounded.”

Low-Carb Diet Heart-Healthy

A total of 307 obese people took part in the research, with half following a low-carb diet and half following a low-fat diet.

The low-carb group was instructed to restrict carbohydrates to no more than 20 grams a day for three months, increasing their carb intake by about 5 grams a week after that as long as they continued to lose weight.

As with the Atkins plan, these dieters ate mostly protein from meat sources during the induction phase along with about three cups of green leafy vegetables, Foster says.

The low-fat dieters were told to restrict total calories to between 1,200 and 1,800 a day, with no more than 30% of those calories coming from fat.

All the participants attended group sessions designed to motivate them to stay on the diets. The groups met weekly at first and then monthly toward the end of the study.

“The No. 1 thing was getting people to keep track of what they ate and their activities on a daily basis,” Foster says.

Other topics included limiting eating to specific places and times, managing the holidays, and getting back on track after overeating.

Even though HDL profiles were better in the low-carb group, Foster says dieters who successfully lost weight on both diets showed improvements in heart disease risk.

He says people who want to shed pounds should pick a diet that is most likely to work for them.

“I think the main message is that people need to spend less time worrying about whether they should follow a weight loss diet that is low in this or high in that and spend more time learning strategies to help them stick to the diet they chose.”

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Your total cholesterol level is Borderline High, but fortunately your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is near optimal. This could mean you have a high level of high-density lipoprotein, or "good" HDL cholesterol, which protects against heart disease. Or you could have other non-measured increases in LDL-like particles that can increase heart disease. Your LDL level also could be optimal if you are taking a statin medication. Please check with your doctor to get your complete lipid profile and see if you may need additional treatment. In the meantime, find more information on WebMD's Cholesterol Health Center.

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Your total cholesterol level is Borderline High. Your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is High. Working to bring down your total cholesterol decreases your LDL cholesterol level. You can do this by exercising more and eating less food with saturated fats. Check food labels!

Your total cholesterol level is Borderline High. But your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is Very High. Working to bring down your total cholesterol decreases your LDL cholesterol level. You can do this by exercising more and eating less food with saturated fats. Check food labels!

Your total cholesterol is High, but your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is optimal. This could mean you have a high level of high-density lipoprotein, or "good" HDL cholesterol, which protects against heart disease. Or you could have elevated secondary lipids, such as non-HDL particles that increase the risk of heart disease. Your LDL level also could be optimal if you are taking a statin medication. Please check with your doctor to get your complete lipid profile and see if you may need additional treatment. In the meantime, find more information on WebMD's Cholesterol Health Center.

Your total cholesterol is High, but your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is near optimal. This could mean you have a high level of high-density lipoprotein, or "good" HDL cholesterol, which protects against heart disease. Or you could have elevated secondary lipids, such as non-HDL particles that increase the risk of heart disease. Your LDL level also could be optimal if you are taking a statin medication. Please check with your doctor to get your complete lipid profile and see if you may need additional treatment. In the meantime, find more information on WebMD's Cholesterol Health Center.

Your total cholesterol level is High. Your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is Borderline High. Working to bring down your total cholesterol decreases your LDL cholesterol level. You can do this by exercising more and eating less food with saturated fats. Check food labels!

Your total cholesterol level is High. Your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is High, too. Working to bring down your total cholesterol decreases your LDL cholesterol level. You can do this by exercising more and eating less food with saturated fats. Check food labels! If you are struggling to bring down your total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol levels, your doctor may prescribe medication, such as statins. Following medication, dietary, and exercise instructions should result in improvements.

Your total cholesterol level is High, and your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is Very High. Working to bring down your total cholesterol decreases your LDL cholesterol level. You can do this by exercising more and eating less food with saturated fats. Check food labels! If you are struggling to bring down your total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol levels, your doctor may prescribe statins or other cholesterol-lowering medications.

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