A newly published study examining the effects of a plant-based, low-carbohydrate diet on weight loss and low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL-C) levels has demonstrated improvements in heart disease risk factors.
The study, titled, “Effect of a 6-month vegan low-carbohydrate (‘Eco-Atkins’) diet on cardiovascular risk factors and body weight in hyperlipidaemic adults: a randomized controlled trial” was published this month in BMJ Open, a BMJ Journal for peer reviewed research .
In the study, consumption of a low-carbohydrate ‘Eco-Atkins’ vegan diet containing increased protein and fat from gluten and soy products, nuts and vegetables resulted in greater weight loss and significantly lower concentrations of LDL-C compared to a high-carbohydrate, low-fat diet.
“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 benefits – something that hasn’t been shown with low-carbohydrate diets alone,” said Ratna Mukherjea, Ph.D., associate director of global nutrition at DuPont Nutrition & Health and co-author of the study.
“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.”
Improvements in Heart Disease Risk Factors
In the study, 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 percent vs 6 percent weight reductions, respectively).
Importantly, participants following the low-carbohydrate diet also achieved significant reductions of LDL-C concentrations (−0.49 mmol/L (−0.70 to −0.28); p<0.001), 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 (−0.57 to −0.11); p=0.005) and total cholesterol (−0.62 mmol/L (−0.86 to −0.37); p<0.001). There was no treatment difference seen in high-density lipoprotein cholesterol levels.
Reduction in Body Mass Index (BMI) also was greater on the low-carbohydrate diet compared to the high-carbohydrate diet (−0.4 kg/m2 (−0.8 to 0.0); p=0.039). Both interventions also reduced HbA1c, blood glucose and blood pressure levels.
Following the initial one-month metabolic (all foods provided) phase of study, the six-month period analyzed was based on self-selected participation. This suggests that the results from the study are more aligned with what could be expected in a real-life setting.
About the Study
The six-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-C levels (>3.4 mmol/L at diagnosis) and a body mass index (BMI) >27 kg/m2. Prior to starting, and for the duration of the study, participants who had been taking lipid lowering medications discontinued their use.
"Adherence to this low-carb vegetable-based diet was associated with a decrease in LDL cholesterol by 9 percent over the 6-month study period that was not accompanied by a depression of HDL cholesterol,” said Cyril Kendall, Ph.D., faculty of medicine at University of Toronto. “Lowering LDL-C while maintaining HDL-C would be expected to reduce CHD risk.”
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