Low-carb diet improves cholesterol

Adhering to a plant-based, low-carbohydrate diet is effective in promoting weight loss and superior to standard low-fat diets in reducing cholesterol levels, according to a report in the Archives of Internal Medicine.

Although low-carb diets based on animal proteins can promote weight loss, they often fail to reduce LDL ("bad") cholesterol, Dr David Jenkins, from St. Michael's Hospital, Toronto, and colleagues note. Whether substituting plant sources for the proteins might help had not been studied.

To investigate, the researchers assessed weight loss and cholesterol changes in 47 overweight subjects with high cholesterol who were randomly assigned to receive a plant-based low-carbohydrate diet or a high-carbohydrate comparison diet for four weeks.

The intervention diet, also referred to as the "Eco-Atkins" diet, consisted of 26% carbohydrate, 31% vegetable protein, and 43% vegetable oil. The comparison diet was 58% carbohydrate, 16% protein, and 25% fat. Both diets were given at 60% of calorie requirements.

Blood pressure, cholesterol benefits
Subjects in each group lost comparable amounts of weight, roughly 0.8kg. However, the Eco-Atkins diet was better than the comparison diet at reducing LDL-cholesterol levels.

The Eco-Atkins diet was also linked to greater reductions in blood pressure than the comparison diet, the report indicates.

The new findings provide "insight into debatably more effective and possibly safer tactics for designing higher-protein diets for weight loss and cardiovascular risk reduction," Dr Katherine Tuttle and Joan Milton, from the University of Washington School of Medicine, Spokane, comment in a related editorial.

"However," they caution, "it is premature to recommend the 'Eco-Atkins' diet as a weight-loss diet of choice without confirmation of its efficacy in larger studies of more diverse and higher-risk individuals."

(Reuters Health, June 2009)

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