International study finds moderate consumption of fats, carbohydrates is best for overall health

balanced intake of fat, fruits, and vegetables, all the while avoiding high carbohydrates, is associated with a lower risk of mortality. A study published in The Lancet shows that the lowest risk of death was with individuals who had a daily intake of three to four servings of fruits, vegetables, and legumes.

However, higher amounts of fats are now associated with the decrease of risk in mortality, compared to lower intakes. On the other hand, carbohydrates from white bread, rice, and other highly processed breads is related to higher risks of death but not with the risk of cardiovascular disease. The studies from the Population Health Research Institute (PHRI) at McMaster University and Hamilton Health Sciences presented these findings as part of a major global study.

Data used in the study came from the Prospective Urban Rural Epidemiology (PURE) study which includes 135,000 people from low-, middle-, and high-income countries. Researchers of the study asked people about their daily nutritional intakes and followed the respondents for an average of seven-and-a-half years. Results of the study show that higher fat intakes, consisting of saturated, polyunsaturated, and monounsaturated fats, was directly associated with lower risks of stroke and mortality. None of the types of fats were related to cardiovascular disease or deaths from it. Surprising as it may be to most people, the results are consistent with other observational studies and other clinical trials in other western countries conducted over the last 20 years.

Decreasing the intake of fatty foods automatically triggers an increase in consumption of carbohydrates. Findings of the study explain why certain populations that are inclined to carbohydrate consumption, such as people in South Asia (who mostly consume rice), have a higher mortality rate as compared to populations who rely more on protein-rich foods and fatty foods.

Dietary recommendations state that individuals must consume at least five servings of fruit, vegetables, and legumes daily, but current diet trends across the globe report only three to four servings of the whole foods on a daily basis. Low- to middle-income countries find it difficult to incorporate these nutrient-rich foods into their daily meal routines, because most fruits and vegetables are way too expensive. The populations with the lowest fruit, vegetable, and legume intake includes countries in South Asia, Africa, and Southeast Asia.

There are many food diets around the world that claim to be the best. Many of these diets, however, come with a significant health risk. The ketogenic diet, for example, emphasizes the elimination of carbohydrates from the daily intake in order to urge the body to use fat for energy. While this may be the closest diet you can get to adhering with the recent study as mentioned above, the ketogenic diet may leave you feeling hungry or weak during the first few weeks. Not many people can take the lack of bread, rice, pasta, and other carbohydrate-rich foods. On the bright side, the ketogenic diet is known to be beneficial for controlling the symptoms of diabetes. Another diet, called the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) is a well-known diet because of its balance in all types of foods. DASH’s daily nutritional goals include 27 percent total fat, 6 percent saturated fat, 18 percent protein, 55 percent carbohydrates, 150 milligrams of cholesterol, and 30 grams of fiber.

Everything in moderation

As mentioned above, it is important to maintain a balanced diet that includes abundant amounts of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, and nuts; and moderate amounts of fatty foods and carbohydrates. This dietary pattern does not need to limit total fat intake, but it is best to choose plant-based unsaturated fats rather than animal fats.

Besides optimizing your daily nutritional intake, researchers of the study highly suggest avoidance of risk behaviors such as smoking and excessive alcohol intake, as well as participation in an active lifestyle with regular exercise and good sleep habits.

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