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Low-carb diets could reduce diabetes, heart disease and stroke risk even if people DON'T lose weight by cutting down on bread, potatoes and pasta

  • Researchers at Ohio State University tested low-carb diets on 16 people

  • Weight loss was thought to be what caused the health benefits of diet changes

  • But people's blood fat and cholesterol levels reduced during a low-carb diet

  • And metabolic syndrome was stopped in more than half of people taking part

Eating a low-carb diet could make you healthier even if you don't lose weight because of it, a study has found.

Researchers discovered people could reduce their risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease and stroke simply by cutting down on carbohydrates.

Metabolic syndrome, a combination of high blood pressure, obesity and high levels of fat and sugar in the blood, could be reversed by the diet change.

And people may reap the benefits of eating healthier even if they ate the same amount of calories and didn't shed any weight, the study added.

A low carb diet is one in which carbohydrate heavy foods such as potatoes, pasta, cereals and processed food may be replaced with more fruit, vegetables, meat and nuts.

Researchers at Ohio State University studied 16 people with metabolic syndrome – the common condition affects around a third of American adults and a quarter of Britons.

People with a waist measurement larger than 37 inches (94cm) for men or 31.5 inches (80cm) for women are at a higher risk of having metabolic syndrome.

A diagnosis is usually made if someone has three of five main signs including the large waist size, high fat in the blood, blood pressure above 140/90mmHg (120/80 is the upper end of normal) or insulin resistance.

But in their study the Ohio scientists found metabolic syndrome was reversed in more than half of people who changed their diets.

This reversal was seen in five men and four women, even though none of them lost weight.

'There's no doubt that people with metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes do better on low-carb diets,' said Professor Jeff Volek.


Metabolic syndrome is a group of avoidable health issues which combine to raise a person's risk of developing type 2 diabetes or heart disease or having a stroke.

It is a common condition and around a quarter of UK adults are believed to have it, along with a third of Americans.

Someone may be diagnosed with metabolic syndrome if they have three or more of the following problems:

A waist size of 37 inches (94cm) or more for men or 31.5 inches (80cm) for women
High levels of fat in the blood and low levels of 'good' cholesterol
Blood pressure which is consistently 140/90mmHg or higher (120/80 is the upper end of normal)
An inability to control blood sugar levels (insulin resistance)
An increased risk of developing blood clots or inflammation
Metabolic syndrome tends to be caused by a lack of exercise or physical activity or a poor diet.

The illness is not unstoppable and can be prevented or reversed by losing weight, doing regular exercise, eating a healthy diet, and quitting smoking and drinking.

Source: NHS  

'But they typically lose weight and one of the prevailing thoughts is that the weight loss is driving the improvements. That was clearly not the case here.

'Our view is that restricting carbs even without weight loss improves a host of metabolic problems.

'Obviously, quality of diet matters because quantity was locked down in this experiment.'

People in the study spent a month at a time eating either a low-carb, moderate or high-carb diet, with a two week break between each.

The low-carb diet was limited to 45g of carbohydrate per day – roughly equivalent to two slices of white bread.

On the moderate diet the limit was 234g and on the high-carb diet it was 420g.  

Four people's metabolic syndrome was reversed even while they were on the moderate diet – the researchers said this was because they ate so many carbohydrates before.

Foods high in carbohydrates include bread, potatoes, pasta, cereals, sugary foods, crisps and crackers and beer.

Cutting down people's carb intake left them with healthier cholesterol levels and less saturated fat in the blood – even though there was more fat in their diet.

Participants' blood pressure and their bodies' ability to use insulin did not improve, but they did burn body fat more efficiently.

If they had been allowed to lose weight as well, the researchers believe more of them would have seen their metabolic syndrome disappear.

Professor Volek added: 'Even a modest restriction is carbs is enough to reverse metabolic syndrome in some people, but others need to restrict even more.'

The research, funded by the National Dairy Council and the Dutch Dairy Association, was published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation Insight.


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