Did you see the news last month? The media were full of dramatic sound bites. “Low Carb Diets Could Shorten Your Life” (eg BBC, The Independent) Actually, they don’t.
The media have taken the findings of a poor study (ARIC) and turned it into sensational headlines that have confused and alarmed people. That’s what I call Fake News. Only a few months earlier, the papers were proclaiming that our high carb dietary guidelines have had disastrous consequences for the nation’s health. Yes, they have.
Always remember, the media’s business is not good science but selling stories.
So what was wrong with this new study?
Firstly the data were collected by self-reported questionnaires a notoriously inaccurate method.
Secondly, the amount of carbs eaten by what they called a ‘low-carb’ group was actually quite high so they never looked at low-carb at all.
Thirdly there were many ‘confounding factors’. The people eating the lower carbohydrate diet in the late 80s, early 90s were those people who ignored the official advice. They tended to be male, diabetic, smokers who took little exercise. ie they had many poor health habits.
Fourthly, the researchers split people into uneven bands some very big, some very small, to artificially inflate the low-carb risk. Zoe Harcombe brilliantly explains the small comparator group statistical shenanigans: “20 children go skiing, 2 are autistic. 2 die in an avalanche, one with autism, one without. The death rate for the non-autistic children is 1 in 18 (5.5%) and the death rate for the autistic children is 1 in 2 (50%)”. This makes it look as if autistic children are 10 times more likely to die in an avalanche which of course is nonsense.
By manipulating the data, they got the conclusion they wanted.
I’ll also say that quality is more important than quantity. There are carbs and carbs. Eating fresh vegetables is good, and some fruit (eaten whole, not drunk as juice). With plenty of variety and different colours you’ll get nutrients, energy and fibre. But eating loads of processed carbs like cereal and things made of flour like bread, cake, biscuits, pastry and pasta is only going to put weight on you and damage your health. That’s why I recommend that people eat real home-cooked fresh food. Check out the series of costed recipes I posted throughout August. 7 main meals – a whole week – at £10.50 per person!
Top tip: Take the news with a pinch of salt.