America’s top nutritionists are considering a new diet.

In recent years, researchers have proven that low-carb diets full of healthy fat and protein help people lose weight — plus prevent and even reverse disease. So for the first time ever, the experts who produce the federal “Dietary Guidelines for Americans” — which influence everything from school lunches to military rations — are reviewing the option of including a low-carb diet pattern.

Unfortunately, their supposedly “low-carb” diet will likely derive a whopping 45 percent of its calories from carbohydrates. That’s simply not low-carb. The federal government’s gaslighting isn’t merely dishonest; it could endanger the health of millions of Americans.

For decades, the government has urged people to consume most of their calories from breads, pastas, rice and other carbohydrate-laden foods. Consider the infamous “food pyramid” released by the federal government back in 1992. That diagram recommended 6 to 11 daily servings of grains. While that has since been reduced, the guidelines still recommend getting more than half one’s calories from carbs.

Simultaneously, the government has instructed people to eat only lean meats and avoid high-fat foods like whole milk, full-fat cheese and butter.

People dutifully followed such advice. Since the government issued the first dietary guidelines in 1980, consumption of red meat, animal fats and whole milk has fallen. But the incidence of childhood obesity and diabetes has tripled. Adult obesity rates have doubled.

The government no longer relies on a detailed pyramid to convey dietary advice. But it still advocates high-carb diets — despite a lack of evidence showing that they are good for health.

In fact, plenty of studies reveal low-carb diets yield far better health results. Consider a 2018 analysis published in The BMJ of more than 160 overweight adults. Participants were assigned to consume 60, 40, or 20 percent of their calories from carbs. Researchers found that, among those who completed the treatment, people in the low-carb group burned about 280 more calories per day than the high-carb group, and around 150 more calories than the moderate-carb group.

Or take a review of 13 studies comparing very low-carb diets and low-fat diets. Folks who followed a low-carb diet lost more weight in the long term than those in the low-fat group.

Low-carb diets can even reverse certain chronic diseases. A staggering 94 percent of subjects with type 2 diabetes were able to reduce or eliminate their use of insulin after drastically limiting their carbohydrate intake, according to a 2018 study published in Diabetes Therapy.

These findings are consistent with my own research and clinical work. I’m a physician in West Virginia, a state with the nation’s highest rates of obesity and diabetes. In 2017, I published a survey study of more than 1,500 people who followed a low-carb diet for greater than 3 months, and most for more than a year. Most participants lost weight and reduced their blood glucose levels. Many reduced their use of medications.

Due to the mountain of evidence supporting low-carb diets, since 2012 I have  followed one to manage my own type 1.5 diabetes — which has characteristics of both type 1 and type 2 diabetes. And I have helped countless patients do the same. If many of my patients and I consume more than 50 grams of carbs a day our sugar goes out of safe range, no matter how much we exercise — and I am an avid runner.

Sadly, the federal guidelines have consistently ignored such evidence. A recent report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine concluded that while the dietary guidelines are viewed as “valid, evidence-based, and free of bias and conflicts of interest,” that “has not routinely been the case.”

Back in 2010, the Department of Agriculture, which oversees the guidelines, sought to improve the review process by creating the Nutrition Evidence Library. Yet, as an article in the British Medical Journal notes, the committee largely ignored this resource when drafting the 2015 guidelines.

If the committee moves forward with its potential “low-carb” definition in the upcoming 2020 guidelines, it will be a grave misstep. Labeling a diet that derives nearly half its calories from carbohydrates as “low-carb” is not only unscientific, it’s dangerous. Folks who follow this recommendation won’t see any of the benefits of a true low-carb lifestyle. Their health will continue to deteriorate — and they’ll dismiss “low-carb” diets as ineffective.

The government must do more than simply repackage the same misguided dogma that has endangered public health for decades. Americans deserve better.

Mark Cucuzzella, MD, FAAFP, is a professor at West Virginia University School of Medicine’s Center for Diabetes and Metabolic Health.


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