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To cut diabetes heart risks, think diet and exercise; the best low-carb diet may be plant-based.

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"It's no big surprise, because the animal-protein diet will have lots of saturated fat and cholesterol, and the plant-based diet will have unsaturated fats, which lower cholesterol and reduce the risk of heart disease and diabetes," says study coauthor Walter Willett, chair of the department of nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health. "Low-carb diets are neither good nor bad—it's what we're replacing those carbs with that's important. It's making choices among your protein and fat sources, and choosing to emphasize the plant sources."

The study highlights the Eco-Atkins diet popularized in 2009 by David Jenkins, a nutritional scientist at the University of Toronto in Canada, who is credited with developing the eating plan. High in plant proteins and rich in fruits and vegetables, it is touted by the study authors as an ideal example of a healthy low-carb diet. While the study does not suggest such a diet will make you live longer, Eco-Atkins has been shown to improve cholesterol levels and promote weight loss, says Jenkins. [Read more: The Best Low-Carbohydrate Diet? One That's Plant-Based.]

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