(NaturalNews) A low-carb, vegan diet may reduce the risk of heart disease by 10 percent over the course of a decade, according to a study conducted by researchers from the University of Toronto, St. Michael's Hospital (Toronto), Boston Children's Hospital, Harvard Medical School, New York Medical College and Solae LLC, and published in BMJ Open.
"We killed two birds with one stone -- or, rather, with one diet," lead author Dr. David Jenkins said. "We designed a diet that combined both vegan and low-carb elements to get the weight loss and cholesterol-lowering benefits of both."
Design your own diet
Although many studies have shown that certain low-carbohydrate diets can be very helpful in achieving weight loss, such diets have also been linked to unhealthy cardiovascular effects due to their emphasis on consuming animal fat and protein. In contrast, plant-based diets have been linked to lower cardiovascular risk factors.
In the new study, researchers sought to combine the benefits of a low-carb diet with those of a vegan diet -- in which no animal products at all are consumed, including meat, dairy and eggs. This low-carb vegan diet is sometimes called the "Eco-Atkins" diet, especially when it involves high protein consumption.
The researchers randomly assigned 23 obese women and men to follow either an Eco-Atkins diet or a high-carbohydrate, lacto-ovo vegetarian diet (dairy and eggs allowed) for six months. Rather than preparing the participants' food for them, the researchers gave participants menu plans outlining food suitable for the assigned diet, as well as suggested portions. This allowed participants to plan meals according to their own tastes and made it more likely that they would follow the assigned diet.
Suggested carbohydrate sources for low-carb participants included high-fiber grains such as oats and barley, and low-starch vegetables such as eggplant and okra. Suggested protein sources included nuts, gluten, soy, vegetables and grains, and suggested fat sources included nuts, soy, vegetable oils and avocado. Suggested carbohydrate sources for high-carb participants included any whole grains, while suggested protein sources included liquid egg substitutes and skim or low-fat dairy products.
All participants were instructed to design meals so that they ate only about 60 percent of their estimated daily caloric requirements, in order to produce weight loss. Low-carb vegan participants were instructed to get 26 percent of their daily calories from carbohydrates, 31 percent from protein and 43 percent from fat. High-carb vegetarian participants were instructed to get 58 percent from carbohydrates, 16 percent from protein and 25 percent from fat.
Varied health benefits
Although caloric intakes were similar between groups and fat intake was higher in the low-carb group, participants on the low-carb diet lost an average of 4 pounds more than participants in the high-carb group.
Perhaps more significantly, participants in the low-carb group experienced a 10 percent greater reduction in cholesterol than participants in the high-carb group. Over the course of a decade, this level of change could also reduce the risk of heart disease by an additional 10 percent.
"We could expect similar results in the real world because study participants selected their own diets and were able to adjust to their needs and preferences," Dr. Jenkins said.
Another pair of recent studies, conducted by researchers from Linkoping University in Sweden and published in the journals Diabetologia and Annals of Medicine, confirmed even more health benefits to a low-carb diet. The researchers assigned type 2 diabetes patients to either a low-carb or a traditional low-fat diet for six months. They found that, while weight loss was similar between the diets, the low-carb diet led to greater reductions in blood sugar and inflammation.