STORRS, Conn.— The most popular method in the United States for
losing weight - low-carbohydrate diets - can reduce a person’s risk
of developing heart disease, according to a study conducted by a University
of Connecticut researcher.
Jeff Volek, an assistant professor in the Department of Kinesiology, reviewed
more than a dozen clinical trials conducted since 2003 and examined low-carb diets
and related risk factors for cardiovascular disease. His findings were published
in the June issue of the Journal of Nutrition, the official publication of the
American Society for Nutritional Sciences.
Volek’s analysis found that very low-carb diets outperform low-fat diets in
lowering triglyceride (fat in the blood) and increasing HDL (good cholesterol).
“This type of replication across studies performed at different institutions
is rare, and it shows how robust and consistent the favorable effects of a low-carbohydrate
diet really are,” says Volek, a registered dietitian and a member of the UConn
Human Performance Laboratory in the Neag School of Education.
During the last
five years, Volek has published more than 10 of his own scientific studies specifically
examining various aspects of low-carb diets and their connection to heart disease.
Although a portion of his previous research has been funded by the Dr. Robert C.
Foundation, the studies he reviewed for this project were sponsored by a variety
of federal and private sources.
According to Volek, recent research studies provide “impressive evidence” that
the potential adverse effects of saturated fat on risk for heart disease are only observed
when carbohydrates are present in moderate to large amounts. The reason for this,
he explains, is that the body processes saturated fat completely differently on
a low-carbohydrate diet. “It simply doesn’t have the same harmful effect,” he
The studies Volek reviewed show that low-carbohydrate diets not only improve
triglycerides and HDL cholesterol, but also several other risk factors that lead
to metabolic syndrome -- a condition that puts an estimated 25 percent of adult
Americans at a three-fold risk for cardiovascular disease.
His own research, along with those he reviewed, indicates that a low-carbohydrate
diet improves all aspects of metabolic syndrome while a high-carbohydrate diet,
even if it’s very low in fat, exacerbates this disorder -- unless the person
loses significant amounts of weight or increases his or her activity level.
“Low-carbohydrate diets improve metabolic syndrome independent of weight loss
and physical activity” he says.
These scientifically proven facts about low-carb diets have been slow to reach
health practitioners or have been ignored, according to Volek. Yet, there have
been a number of new studies and papers that continue to have consistent findings.
With this in mind, Volek was inspired to conduct his review study with the goal
of better organizing the scientific evidence in a way that might more fully inform
“We hope to encourage health practitioners to at least consider low-carb
diets as an option, rather than casually dismissing them,” he says.