Sunday, July 20, 2008

Diet - Atkins Diet: Weight Loss and Better Lipids Don’t Lie

The low carbohydrate Atkin’s diet invites controversy and skepticism.

After all, how could a diet laden with fats, cheese, and red meat be good for you? How could it help you lose weight? How could it lower your blood cholesterol or your blood fats leading to those fatty cholesterol plaques?

It doesn’t make sense. It’s just plain counterintuitive. Besides, its creator, the late Doctor Robert Atkins, was an unabashed self-promoter, writing best selling diet books and building a company to make Atkins diet products. No self-respecting doctor toots his own horn. He relies on scientific evidence.

The evidence has just arrived. A July 17 New England Journal Report, in a “tightly controlled” 2 year, 23 author study of 322 overweight Israelis, compares low-carbohydrate, Mediterranean, and low-fat diets It finds Atkins dieters lost more weight, lowered their “bad” cholesterol (LDL cholesterol) more, boosted their “good” cholesterol (HDL cholesterol) more, reduced their triglycerides more, and dropped their ratio of total cholesterol to HDL cholesterol more.

How could this be? Well, figures don’t lie.

Controversy persists. The numbers show something the low-fat crowd doesn’t want to hear, so again it fuels controversy. It contradicts advice set forth in www., itself controversial because it doesn’t always rely on world-class experts. That advice reads:“Do not follow the low-carbohydrate diet for purposes of weight loss. These diets tend to be high in saturated and transfats.” It distracts from the work of health officials who are cracking down on transfats and saturated fats in public eating places. Besides, a Jenkinstown, Pennsylvania, Nutritional Research Foundation, established by none other than Dr. Robert Atkins, supported the study. Surely there must be bias.

Still, if you can’t trust a well-controlled study conducted by a highly regarded team from Israel and Harvard, who deny bias, who can you trust? It’s hard to fudge weight loss and lipid figures in a double-blind study.

The Atkins diet works for a lot of people because of its simplicity. I have heard this simplicity explanation expressed from those in whom the diet has resulted in permanent weight loss.

• “I just don’t eat anything white, like bread or pasta.”
• “I just shop at the periphery of the store, in the fruit, vegetable, and meat sections, and stay out of the central aisles.”
• “ I never eat processed foods sitting on shelves.”
• “ I no longer believe the myth if it tastes good, it’s bad for you.”
• “You can lose weight and eat well, and you don’t have to sweat the details.”

These people also tell me they enjoy the freedom to enjoy the good tastes and pleasant satiation of diary products, cheese, proteins, and beef containing fat. Let’s face it. Fat makes food taste better.

For the Atkins’s disbelievers, there’s the Mediterranean diet, which came in a very close second to the Atkins diet in weight loss and lipid benefits and was better in glucose control. The Mediterranean diet replaces beef and lamb with poultry and fish, but has plenty of olive oil, nuts and red wine.

Low-fat fans need to face facts. But they don’t have to give up their quests for low fat foods. They can always go to New York City, which has forbidden restaurants from using saturated fats and transfats in preparing foods, or, if all else fails, they break out the olive oil.


1. Iris, Shai, with 22 co-authors, “Weight Loss with a Low-Carbohydrate, Mediterranean, or Low-Fat Diet.” New England Journal of Medicine, July 17, 2008.

2. William Bulkley, “Study Feuls Fat Vs. Low Carb Debate, “Wall Street Journal, July 17, 2008.


RiverPoet said...

It makes no sense in terms of what we traditionally understand - or think we understand - about food. But then again, isn't a diet of meat, dairy, and vegetables primarily what our ancestors ate? Low-carb diets seem to work for me, if for no other reason than to keep me away from foods that seem to trigger binge-like eating (cookies, potato chips, and the like).

Thanks for highlighting this report.


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