Middle-aged women have heard it all when it comes to carbohydrate and fat intake recommendations. In 1992, we saw the USDA’s Food Guide Pyramid encourage consumers to focus on grains and limit fats. And in the mid-2010s, we likely all knew someone who tried keto: This high-fat, low-carb approach proved to be an effective weight-loss strategy for many participants while still allowing them to eat delicious meals like a BLT (hold the bread).
In contrast to both of those approaches, a new study in Heart, Lung and Circulation found that a moderate approach to carbohydrates may be the way to go for middle-aged women. Let’s take a look at how moderate carb intake protects against cardiovascular disease, why the quality of carbohydrates matters and what other steps women can take to reduce their risk for heart disease. Understanding the research, and paying attention to what works for your body, can help you live the healthiest, happiest life possible.
Weighing the costs and benefits of low-carb diets
In the new study “Higher Dietary Carbohydrate Intake and Not Saturated Fat is Inversely Associated With Cardiovascular Disease in Australian Women,” researchers broke the participants into quintiles based on their carbohydrate intake. Doing so, they found that a moderate carbohydrate intake had the greatest protective effect against cardiovascular disease. (“Moderate intake” was considered between 41.0 and 44.3 percent of a participant’s total daily food intake.) “Saturated fat intake,” they found, “was not associated with CVD [cardiovascular disease]or mortality.”
What are the implications, then, of following a very low-carbohydrate diet? It’s all about weighing the costs and benefits. Some of the potential costs of a low-carb diet for women include hormonal problems, irregular menstrual cycles and a drop in thyroid function, according to Healthline.
On top of the benefit of weight loss, some low-carb diets may have additional benefits, including “reducing your risk of type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome,” according to the Mayo Clinic.
Choosing high-quality carb sources
It’s not just about the quantity of energy from carbs, though. The quality matters, too. A diet high in added sugars, for example, may contribute to an increased risk of heart disease. Even if their overall carbohydrate intake remains moderate, most women would benefit from limiting their intake of carbs that contain too much added sugars (think sweetened cereals, juices, baked goods and packaged snacks).
“Not only are complex carbs more nutrient-dense than simple carbs but they are also higher in fiber and digest more slowly,” said Scott Morley, dietary manager at Cedar Crest Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Sunnyvale, California. “This makes them more filling, which can help with healthy weight loss. And if someone has type 2 diabetes, complex carbs also help manage blood sugar spikes after meals.”
Examples of complex carbohydrates include whole-wheat bread, beans, oatmeal, potatoes and more.
Reducing the risk of heart disease holistically
Eating a well-balanced diet is a major component of lowering your risk for heart disease and living a healthy life in general. But your overall lifestyle choices can help, too. Here are some tips from MedlinePlus:
- Control your blood pressure.
- Keep your cholesterol and triglyceride levels under control.
- Stay at a healthy weight.
- Get regular exercise.
- Limit alcohol.
- Don’t smoke
- Manage stress.
- Manage diabetes.
- Make sure that you get enough sleep.
If you’re a middle-aged woman, getting a little under half of your energy from carbohydrates might help reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease. For the most benefit, focus on whole grain sources and avoid processed, sugary foods and beverages. By making some changes to your diet and living and maintaining heart-healthy habits, you will help yourself be happier and healthier now and in the future.
A version of this article was published by The Daily Herald. It has been republished here with permission.