Renowned Cardiologist Debunks the Health Benefits of Carbs

If you’ve seen the 1973 film Sleeper, you’ll remember that Woody Allen’s character wakes up 200 years in the future to discover that steak is actually good for you. We all laughed at the absurdity of it, right?

Perhaps we shouldn’t have laughed so hard. Because according to one of the world’s top cardiologists, Salim Yusuf, M.D., DPhil, it just may be right.

Approximately 40 years ago, guidelines were established as a result of evidence indicating that a saturated-fat diet could raise LDL cholesterol which increased the likelihood of cardiovascular disease (CVD). The thinking was that CVD could be reduced by removing fat from the diet. This gave rise to the ‘80’s mantra: “Fat is bad. Carbs are good.” So, physicians, including cardiologists, generally recommended low-fat, high-carbohydrate diets.

By the ‘90’s, fat-free and low-fat foods were changing the way Americans eat. Secure in the belief that they were doing the right thing for their health, Americans ate it up. Unfortunately, those low-fat foods were generally highly processed and the formula didn’t just remove the fat. It also added sugar—lots of it.

Recently, there’s been a growing realization that the low-fat cornerstone of dietary recommendations was based upon flawed information. More and more studies are reporting that the consumption of sugar plays a greater role in heart disease than saturated fat. What’s more, studies of low-fat diets are showing that there’s no convincing evidence that they cut disease risk.

And that is exactly what Dr. Yusuf recently announced at Cardiology Update 2017, a symposium presented by the European Society of Cardiology and the Zurich Heart House. In fact, he vehemently asserted that many of the major guidelines have no good basis in science.

Today, cardiovascular disease has declined, but it still remains the leading cause of death in the United States for men and women. In fact, the CDC reports that someone in the U.S. dies from a heart disease-related event every minute. What’s more, the increase in refined carbs and sugar led to other, unanticipated problems. Chief among them: diabetes and obesity. According to the CDC, as of 2016, 36.5 percent of U.S. adults are obese and among the leading causes of preventable death as a result of obesity-related conditions are heart disease and Type II diabetes.

Based upon the findings from the Prospective Urban Rural Epidemiology (PURE) study, Dr. Yusuf contends that it is becoming quite clear that increasing carbohydrates and avoiding fat is not the right way to go. The amount of fat had no relationship to the risk for coronary heart disease. In fact, the PURE study found that increasing fats was actually protective against heart disease, as long as it wasn’t extraordinarily high.

The PURE study, an ongoing large-scale epidemiological and observational study of 140,000 people in 17 countries, which has not yet been published, shows the incidence of cardiovascular disease in the PURE population increased steeply as carbohydrate intake rose beyond 55% of total energy, even though the WHO guidelines state that up to 75% of energy can come from carbohydrates.

As one can imagine, Dr. Yusuf’s presentation about the PURE findings has caused quite a stir among professionals in every medical specialty. It will be interesting to see what happens when the study is finally published. In the meantime, I think it’s wonderful that we’re finally having a conversation about the real relationship between carbohydrates and cardiovascular disease.

To join the ranks of healthcare providers fighting obesity, tweet @DrsFightObesity or use #DoctorsFightingObesity to keep the conversation going.


Timothy N. Logemann, MD, FACC, ABOM is a board-certified internist and cardiologist at Wausau, Wisconsin-based Aspirus Heart and Vascular, which offers a structured weight management protocol, the Ideal Protein Protocol. He is certified by the American Board of Obesity Medicine and is a member of the Ideal Protein Cardiology Advisory Board.