Turns out eating a South Beach-like diet -- low in carbs, high in protein -- could have effects beyond whittling the waistline. It could also reduce cancer risk and slow growth of tumors, according to a new study in mice.
Researchers from the British Columbia Cancer Research Centre found that mice that ate a South Beach-like diet composed of 15 percent carbohydrates, 58 percent protein and 26 percent fat had slower tumor cell growth than mice that ate a typical Western diet of 55 percent carbohydrates, 23 percent protein and 22 percent fat.
Even though the study was in mice, researchers said the biological findings are strong enough to be applied to humans.
"This shows that something as simple as a change in diet can have an impact on cancer risk," study researcher Gerald Krystal, Ph.D., a scientist at the British Columbia Cancer Research Centre, said in a statement.
The study was published today (June 14) in the journal Cancer Research.
Researchers also tried putting mice that were predisposed to breast cancer on the two diets. During their first year of life, nearly half the mice put on the Western diet went on to develop breast cancer, while none of the mice on the low-carb, high-protein diet developed breast cancer during this time period, according to the study.
And of the mice put on the Western diet, only one was able to reach a normal mouse lifespan of two years, and 70 percent of those mice died from cancer. However, only 30 percent of the mice on the low-carb, high-protein diet went on to develop cancer at all, with more than half of these mice either reaching or aging beyond their normal lifespan, the study said.
That's because tumor cells are fueled by glucose, researchers said. By decreasing the number of carbs eaten, there is much less glucose in the body that tumors can use to grow.
Restricting carbohydrates also limits the amount of insulin in the body, which is a hormone that has been shown in past studies to promote the growth of tumors in humans and mice, researchers said.
However, the type of low-carb diet may matter, when it comes to good health. A study published last year in the Annals of Internal Medicine showed that an animal-based low-carb diet was associated with an increased risk of death, including death from cancer, while a vegetable-based low-carb diet was associated with a decreased risk of death.