How Safe Is the Atkins Diet?
The Atkins Diet Seems To Never Go Away
Fad diets come and go, but The Atkins Diet, a high-protein,
low-carbohydrate weight-loss plan, seems never to go away,
no matter how many medical professionals denounce it.
"Low-carb diets have been linked to increased frequency of
colon cancer, formation of kidney stones, kidney disease,
and even osteoporosis," says Neal Barnard, MD, president of
the Physicians Commission for Responsible Medicine, a
nonprofit research group based in Washington. "The weight
loss you see in low-carb diets isn't all that much better
than what you see in studies of low-fat, vegetarian diets."
A Pretty Evil Weight Loss Diet
Putting it more bluntly is Kiku Collins-Trentylon, a sports
trainer in New York City, who says it's "a pretty evil diet.
We all want to sit on our couches, eat nonstop, and have
perfect, sculpted bodies. Unfortunately, it doesn't work
Meat is the culprit in low-carb diet danger, says Barnard.
"The reason for the health worries is in large part due to
red meat," he says. "People who eat meat every day have
three times greater risk of developing colon cancer. And
then there is the problem of the kidneys. They aren't
designed to work on an oil slick of fat."
Big, Fat, High Protein Controversy
In the summer of 2002, however, both Time magazine and The
Sunday New York Times Magazine have published
much-talked-about stories that say Atkins may not be as bad
for heart health as previously believed. These stories were
sparked in part by a recent study from researchers at Duke
University showing most people who ate a high-protein,
low-carb diet for six months lost 20 pounds.
That much was expected. What wasn't expected was that the
researchers didn't see strong evidence of the diet causing
any health problems. In fact, both LDL "bad" cholesterol and
HDL "good" cholesterol improved.
Low Carb Diet Can Produce Significant Weight Loss
The Duke study shows part of why the diet is so popular, it
can produce significant weight loss. It also produces it
without a lot of annoying calorie counting and the
irritability associated with diets.
Known for Easy Weight Loss
"You're not as hungry as with other diets, and that is a
really good thing," says Jenny Anderson, an Internet
consultant from Mamaroneck, N.Y., who is on the diet. "That
makes it easier to stay on it. So does seeing results fairly
quickly. One bad thing is that it forbids caffeine, and I
had a lot of bad headaches from coffee withdrawal."
Another drawback to the low-carb diet is its severely
limited menu options.
"At first, eggs and bacon in butter for breakfast every day
is fun, but day after day of only meat and fat at every meal
can get tiresome," says Anderson.
So therein lies the controversy. On one hand you have lots
of stories of significant weight loss on a relatively
user-friendly diet. On the other, you have dietitians and
nutritionists who maintain that the weight loss produced is
short-term and can threaten a person's overall health,
despite the fact that the weight loss itself may have the
beneficial effect of lowering cholesterol.
Who is right? Maybe both sides. It provides weight loss at a
very high cost to overall health, or at least that has been
the prevailing medical opinion.
Low Carbohydrate Diet May Not Be As Bad As We Thought
"There have been reports in the medical literature that say
that this low-carb diet may not be as bad as we thought,"
says Susan Barr, registered dietitian in New York City.
"That makes people interested again in this diet, but until
there is more research on what stresses the diet places on
the body, there is no way to know what it might be doing
besides providing short-term weight loss.
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About The Author
Michael Lewis has been collecting articles and information
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