Here's Why Eating (Some!) Carbs Can Extend Your Life

But one word of advice: Don't overdo it.

It's 2018, and we still can't answer the basic question of what the optimal diet is for human beings. Is it Paleo? Vegan? Ketogenic? Should you eat small meals throughout your diet or try intermittent fasting instead? You'd think that when it comes to carbs, we've all pretty universally deemed them to be the enemy, but even then the jury is out, as one recent study even claimed that eating pasta can help you lose weight.

If your ambitions are aesthetic in nature, then there's a lot of research that indicates maintaining a low-carb diet is the key to a slimmer waistline. But if you've got your eye on longevity, that's not necessarily the case.

A new study published in The Lancet analyzed 15,428 adults aged 45-64 years in the United States, all of whom consumed the recommended daily intake of calories, and found that, indeed, high-carb diets (defined as more than 70 percent of energy) seemed to be associated with early morality. However, the same was found for low-carb diets (defined as 40 percent of energy). The lowest risk of morality was associated with diets consisting of a moderate intake of carbohydrates (50-55% of energy).

The study also indicated that not all low-carb diets are created equal, suggesting that those that focus on getting most of your calories from animal-based proteins such as chicken and cheese were linked to greater mortality than those that centered around plant-based proteins such as vegetables, nuts, and legumes.

This implies that, when it comes to aging, those who do prefer a low-carb diet should perhaps swap pasta for leafy greens instead of a hearty steak.

"We need to look really carefully at what are the healthy compounds in diets that provide protection," said Dr. Sara Seidelmann, Clinical and Research Fellow in Cardiovascular Medicine from Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, and lead author of the study. "Low-carb diets that replace carbohydrates with protein or fat are gaining widespread popularity as a health and weight loss strategy. However, our data suggests that animal-based low carbohydrate diets, which are prevalent in North America and Europe, might be associated with shorter overall life span and should be discouraged. Instead, if one chooses to follow a low carbohydrate diet, then exchanging carbohydrates for more plant-based fats and proteins might actually promote healthy aging in the long term."

Adjusting for variables, the researchers found that, from the age of 50, those who ate a moderate carb diet enjoyed an additional 33 years of life, which is four years longer than those on low-carb diets and one year longer than those on high-carb diets.

"These findings bring together several strands that have been controversial. Too much and too little carbohydrate can be harmful but what counts most is the type of fat, protein, and carbohydrate," said Walter Willett, Professor of Epidemiology and Nutrition at Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health, and co-author of the study.

The researchers noted that the study had limitations, most notably the fact that because it took place over the course of 25 years, people's diets could have changed. Much of the data was also self-reported, which can lead to inaccuracies. Still, when they did a follow-up study with 432,179 people in North American, European, and Asian countries, they found that the life expectancy of those consuming a moderate amount of carbs was still higher than those who stuck to low-carb or high-carb diets.

The research also doesn't totally contradict the well-documented longevity benefits of the Mediterranean diet, since that focuses on healthy grains and legumes, good fat, and seafood, limiting the intake of red meat to just a couple of times a month.

Whatever diet you choose to follow, it seems that one rule continues to prevail: moderation is key.

And for more on how getting a personalized diet can best suit your metabolism, read up on how I Tried DNA Testing to Lose Weight And the Results Blew My Mind.

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Diana Bruk
Diana is a senior editor who writes about sex and relationships, modern dating trends, and health and wellness. Read more
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