The effect of a low-fat, high-carbohydrate diet on serum high density lipoprotein cholesterol and triglyceride

M L Turley, C M Skeaff, J I Mann, B Cox
European Journal of Clinical Nutrition 1998, 52 (10): 728-32

OBJECTIVE: To determine whether substituting carbohydrate for saturated fat has any adverse effects on serum high density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol and triglycerides in free-living individuals.

DESIGN: Randomised crossover trial.

SETTING: General community.

SUBJECTS: Volunteer sample of 38 healthy free-living men with mean (s.d.) age 37 (7) y, moderately elevated serum total cholesterol 5.51 (0.93) mmol/l and body mass index 26.0 (3.6) kg/m2.

INTERVENTIONS: Participants completed two six week experimental periods during which they consumed either a traditional Western diet (36%, 18%, and 43% energy from total, saturated, and carbohydrate, respectively) or a low-saturated fat high-carbohydrate diet (22%, 6% and 59% energy from total, saturated, and carbohydrate, respectively). Dietary principles were reinforced regularly, but food choices were self-selected during each experimental period.

MAIN OUTCOME MEASURES: Serum lipids, body weight and plasma fatty acids.

RESULTS: Reported energy and nutrient intakes, plasma fatty acids, and a drop in weight from 79.1 (12.5) kg on the Western diet to 77.6 (12.0) kg on the high-carbohydrate diet (P < 0.001) confirmed a high level of compliance with experimental diets. Total and low density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol fell from 5.52 (1.04) mmol/l and 3.64 (0.88) mmol/l, respectively on the Western diet to 4.76 (1.10) mmol/l and 2.97 (0.94) mmol/l on the high-carbohydrate diet (P < 0.001). HDL cholesterol fell from 1.21 (0.27) mmol/l on the Western diet to 1.07 (0.23) mmol/l on the high-carbohydrate diet (P = 0.057), but the LDL:HDL cholesterol ratio improved from 3.17 (1.05) on the Western diet to 2.88 (0.97) on the high-carbohydrate diet (P = 0.004). Fasting triglyceride levels were unchanged throughout the study.

CONCLUSIONS: Replacement of saturated fat with carbohydrate from grains, vegetables, legumes, and fruit reduces total and LDL cholesterol with only a minor effect on HDL cholesterol and triglyceride. It seems that when free living individuals change to a fibre rich high-carbohydrate diet appropriate food choices lead to a modest weight reduction. This may explain why the marked elevation of triglyceride and reduction of HDL cholesterol observed on strictly controlled high-carbohydrate diets may not occur when such diets are followed in practice.

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