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Carbs May Be Worse for Heart Health Than Fat

Researchers say carbohydrates have a more 'adverse impact' on cardiovascular risk factors. They also have surprising advice on fruits and vegetables.

carbs

More bad news for carbs.

Carbohydrates apparently have a larger negative impact on heart health than fat.

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That’s the conclusion of researchers from the Prospective Urban Rural Epidemiology (PURE) study.

The study examined the eating habits of 125,000 people from 18 countries.

Researchers said they found that carbohydrates, not fat, have “the most adverse impact on cardiovascular risk factors.”

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The project looked at people from all different economical and geographical walks of life. Data were gathered over a 10-year period, from 2003-2013.

What should you eat?

Researchers say that an ideal diet would consist of roughly 50 to 55 percent carbohydrates and 35 percent fat.

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The type of fat is also important to consider.

Monounsaturated fats, such as those found in olive oil, nuts, and avocados, have beneficial properties.

Meanwhile, saturated fat, often found in red meat has a neutral effect on cardiovascular health, researchers said.

But the PURE study does have limitations.

The authors wrote that in many low income areas, carbohydrates — such as rice, beans, and bread — are common.

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"The current focus on promoting low-fat diets ignores the fact that most people's diets in low and middle income countries are very high in carbohydrates, which seem to be linked to worse health outcomes,” said study author Mahshid Dehghan, PhD, of McMaster University in Canada, in a press release.

“In low and middle income countries, where diets sometimes consist of more than 65 percent of energy from carbohydrates, guidelines should refocus their attention toward reducing carbohydrate intake, instead of focusing on reducing fats,” Dehghan added.

As with fats, the types and quality of carbohydrate can vary, depending on what is available.

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Whole grains are healthier than highly processed items like white bread and pasta. In low-income areas, quality of food must be taken into account.

“The data makes sense, especially in light of the authors comment that the survey was taken in areas where carbohydrate quality was low [likely carb sources that include sugar, fried foods, and foods made with refined grains].” Kristin Kirkpatrick MS, RD, LD, a licensed, registered dietitian and wellness manager at the Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute, told Healthline.

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“I would have loved to have seen if the data changed when looking only at high-quality carb sources, like intact grains, beans and legumes. and starchy vegetables,” she said.

Kirkpatrick recommends that individuals actually eat fats, in place of low-quality carbohydrates.

Those with diabetes should be particularly aware of this, as fats have a minimal impact on insulin and blood sugar, while refined carbohydrates can have a dramatic effect.

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Too many fruit, vegetables?

Beyond recommendations about fat and carbohydrates, other researchers of the PURE study found, perhaps more surprisingly, that when it comes to fruits and vegetables, you really can have too much of a good thing.

The researchers recommend eating no more than three to four servings per day.

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Moderate intake is still associated with health benefits, including lower risk of cardiovascular-related mortality, and overall mortality.

But those appear to cap off with increased servings.

Still, for many Americans, the concern should be getting enough fruits and vegetables instead of eating too many.

“From the perspective of the fruits, vegetables, and legumes, we need to focus on the fact that most Americans are not reaching even these minimum standards,” said Kirkpatrick. “The message should perhaps not be to eat less to get the same benefit, but rather something more attainable, such as ‘try to eat a fruit or vegetable with every meal.’”

Kirkpatrick recommends trying different ways to integrate fruits and vegetables into a daily routine by snacking on them.

She also says to try new or different ways of preparing them, such as “ricing” broccoli or cauliflower, and adding them to soups, or other entrees.

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