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BACKGROUND: High-fat, low-carbohydrate diets are widely used for weight reduction, but they may also have detrimental effects via increased circulating free fatty acid concentrations. OBJECTIVE: We tested whether raising plasma free fatty acids by using a high-fat, low-carbohydrate diet results in alterations in heart and brain in healthy subjects. DESIGN: Men (n = 16) aged 22 ± 1 y (mean ± SE) were randomly assigned to 5 d of a high-fat, low-carbohydrate diet containing 75 ± 1% of calorie intake through fat consumption or to an isocaloric standard diet providing 23 ± 1% of calorie intake as fat. In a crossover design, subjects undertook the alternate diet after a 2-wk washout period, with results compared after the diet periods. Cardiac (31)P magnetic resonance (MR) spectroscopy and MR imaging, echocardiography, and computerized cognitive tests were used to assess cardiac phosphocreatine (PCr)/ATP, cardiac function, and cognitive function, respectively. RESULTS: Compared with the standard diet, subjects who consumed the high-fat, low-carbohydrate diet had 44% higher plasma free fatty acids (P < 0.05), 9% lower cardiac PCr/ATP (P < 0.01), and no change in cardiac function. Cognitive tests showed impaired attention (P < 0.01), speed (P < 0.001), and mood (P < 0.01) after the high-fat, low-carbohydrate diet. CONCLUSION: Raising plasma free fatty acids decreased myocardial PCr/ATP and reduced cognition, which suggests that a high-fat diet is detrimental to heart and brain in healthy subjects.

Original publication




Journal article


Am J Clin Nutr

Publication Date





748 - 755


Adenosine Triphosphate, Adult, Affect, Attention, Cognition, Cross-Over Studies, Diet, Carbohydrate-Restricted, Dietary Carbohydrates, Dietary Fats, Echocardiography, Energy Intake, Energy Metabolism, Fatty Acids, Nonesterified, Heart, Humans, Magnetic Resonance Imaging, Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy, Male, Phosphocreatine, Reference Values, Young Adult