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Can a Low-Carb Diet Help Prevent a Heart Attack?

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Conventional advice says one of the best ways to help your heart (and your waistline) is to stay away from fatty foods like red meat. But according to a new study, the opposite might actually be true. New research published in the journal PLOS ONE found that focusing on reducing your carbohydrate intake is actually better for your health than just trying to stay away from fat. In fact, when researchers looked at 17 randomized studies of overweight people, they found that a high-fat, low-carb diet was 98 percent more likely to lower the risk of heart attack and stroke than skimping on fat in favor of carbs. (Learn more about The Truth About the Low-Carb High-Fat Diet.)

But the perks went beyond heart health: Participants on the low-carb diet (consuming less than 120 grams a day) were 99 percent more likely to lose weight than those avoiding fats (making up less than 30 percent of their daily calories). Those are tough numbers to argue with! On average, the low-carb dieters lost about five pounds more than their low-fat counterparts. (Find out Why Women Need Fat.)

Researchers aren't exactly sure why reducing carbs in favor of avoiding fat lowered the risk of heart attack and stroke, but they think it probably has more to do with fewer carbs and less to do with more fat. As for the weight loss, the reason why is pretty simple, says study author Jonathan Sackner-Bernstein, M.D., assistant professor of medicine at Columbia University. While carbs are great for spiking short-term energy levels, they also cause your body to produce a ton of insulin—a hormone that regulates how our bodies use or store glucose and fat. When you eat a ton of carbs, your body releases insulin rapidly, essentially telling your body that it needs to store extra fuel for later, leading you to pack on the pounds, especially around your waist, he explains. (Yikes!) 

So what should you do if you're trying to shed some pounds or want to look out for your heart? When it comes to your heart health, it's okay to say the F word. (But stick to healthy ones, like these 11 High-Fat Foods a Healthy Diet Should Always Include.) As for weight loss, Sacker-Bernstein recommends cutting the carbs before anything else. And don't start stressing—that 120 grams the study participants ate is equivalent to about one banana, one cup of quinoa, two slices of whole wheat bread, and one cup of nuts, so you've still got room to indulge in the whole grains a bit.

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