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What's Worse, Carbs or Saturated Fats? You May Be Surprised

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People who consciously cut down their intake of saturated fats may be surprised to read the results of a recent study. Carbohydrates had a higher risk for increasing levels of fatty acids in a person's blood than saturated fats in a small study, recently published in the journal PLOS ONE.

Participants could double the amount of saturated fats they ate without increasing the levels of saturated fats in their blood, the researchers found. Increasing the amount of carbohydrates in the diet was directly linked with an increase of a fatty acid that is associated with diabetes and heart disease risk.

Dieters who have been renouncing fats in favor of carbs may be doing unintended damage.

This study reveals that saturated fats may not be as bad as previously thought. What's more, you can't create a good diet by simply eliminating or reducing one food group. If you try to avoid one group, such as fat, but overcompensate by eating much more of another food group, such as protein or carbohydrates, the resulting imbalanced diet might still not be a healthy one.

Current dietary guidelines recommended in the US have a diet that is high in carbs, with only 7 to 10 percent of calories in the form of saturated fats, according to the researchers. Their results show that this may not be a good diet.

"People believe 'you are what you eat', but in reality, you are what you save from what you eat. The point is you don't necessarily save the saturated fat you eat. And the primary regulator of what you save in terms of fat is the carbohydrate in your diet," said Professor Jeff Volek, the lead author of this study.

The participants in this study each were given a diet that had the same number of calories -- 2,500 -- and the same amount of protein. The diets started with higher levels of saturated fats, but every three weeks, the researchers progressively replaced saturated fats with carbs. They found that as the 16 participants ate more carbs and fewer saturated fats, they had increased levels of palmitoleic acid, a fatty acid which is associated with diabetes and heart disease. When the participants ate a diet high in saturated fat and lower in carbohydrates, levels of palmitoleic acid actually decreased. The final stage of the diet represented a typical American diet, with 55 percent of the calories coming from carbohydrates, the researchers said.

"There is no magical carb level, no cookie-cutter approach to diet, that works for everyone. There's a lot of interest in personalized nutrition, and using a dynamically changing biomarker could provide some index as to how the body is processing carbohydrates," Volek said.

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