Could a vegan, low-carbohydrate diet reduce the risk of heart disease?

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In a 2009 study, Dr. David Jenkins, of St. Michael's Hospital in Toronto, Canada, and colleagues found that a low-carbohydrate vegan diet - labeled as "Eco-Atkins" - was effective for weight loss. Now, new research from the team finds the diet may also reduce the risk of heart disease by 10% over 10 years.

According to Dr. Jenkins, many low-carbohydrate diets have been associated with weight loss. But he notes that most of these diets incorporate eating animal proteins and fats, which can increase cholesterol.

On the other hand, diets high in vegetable proteins and oils have been associated with a reduced risk of heart disease by lowering low-density lipoprotein (LDL) - often referred to as "bad" cholesterol. LDL cholesterol can build up in the walls of blood vessels and cause blockages, therefore increasing the risk of heart disease.

Since the Eco-Atkins diet consists of foods both low in carbohydrates and high in vegetable proteins and oils, the St. Michael's team wanted to see whether it could lower heart disease risk.

Eco-Atkins diet 'promoted weight loss and reduced cholesterol'
For their study, published in the journal BMJ Open, the researchers assessed 39 overweight men and women between April 2005 and November 2006.

Researchers say that following the Eco-Atkins diet - a vegan low-carbohydrate diet - may reduce the risk of heart disease by 10% over 10 years.
Participants were divided into two groups; one group followed the Eco-Atkins diet for 6 months while the other group followed a high-carbohydrate low-fat diet.

The researchers encouraged those who followed the Eco-Atkins diet to eat around 60% of their estimated caloric requirements - the calories that should be consumed each day to maintain current weight.

In addition, they were told they should aim to get 26% of calories from carbohydrates, 31% from proteins and 43% from fats - mainly vegetable oils.

At the end of the study period, the team found that participants who followed the Eco-Atkins diet had 10% lower cholesterol and lost an average of 4 extra pounds in weight, compared with participants who followed the high-carbohydrate, low-fat diet. The team calculated the reduction in cholesterol and weight as a 10% reduced risk of heart disease over a 10-year period.

According to Dr. Jenkins, these results can be applied to the general population because participants had the freedom to select their own foods from menu plans that outlined items they were allowed to eat and portion sizes. This increased adherence to the diet, according to the researchers.

High-fiber foods, such as oats and barley, formed part of the Eco-Atkins diet, as did low-starch vegetables, including okra and eggplant. Sources of protein came from vegetables, nuts, cereals, gluten and soy while the main fat sources were vegetable oils, nuts, avocado and soy products.
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