Here’s the thing: When it comes to carbohydrates and whether or not they should be a part of your everyday diet, the proof is in the people. Author Dan Buettner—who discovered the Blue Zones, or the five places in the world where people live the longest—drives this point home when he says, “If you want to live to a healthy 100, eat like people who lived to 100.”
And guess what? The people who live to 100 are not on a low-carb diet. In fact, long-lived populations with low rates of chronic diseases (in particular, heart disease) eat high-carbohydrate diets that are lower in fat and low in animal products.
In a 2017 study published in the Lancet, researchers conducted coronary artery calcium tests on 705 indigenous South American Tsimane people in Bolivia. All of the people were over the age of 40 and ate a low-fat, high-carbohydrate diet containing approximately 72% of calories from carbohydrates, 14% of calories from fat, and 14% calories from protein from mainly rice, plantains, cassava, and corn. The results were shocking—97% of people studied showed no signs of atherosclerosis, which is a buildup of fat and cholesterol on the artery walls. They also had extremely low total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol (the “bad” cholesterol).
While this one study doesn’t prove that this diet is conclusively linked to low rates of cardiovascular disease, it’s worth paying attention to, given that the Tsimane “have the lowest reported levels of coronary artery disease of any population recorded to date,” according to the study.
And they aren’t alone. There are many populations around the world who eat plant-rich diets and have extremely low rates of heart disease, including the Bantus of Central and Southern Africa, natives of New Guinea, certain Ecuadorian villages and Native Americans in Mexico, as well as the five Blue Zones originally documented by Buettner.
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