A Victory for the Atkins Diet? Not So Fast.

By Eliza Strickland | July 17, 2008 7:08 pm

steaks grillThe results are out from a new study that compared the results of three different diets, and the researchers say that the famously low-carbohydrate, high-fat Atkins diet was the most effective. Lead researcher Meir Stampfer claims: “The low-carb diet was the clear winner in providing the most weight loss” [ABC News]. But many others are less convinced that the study gives the prize to the Atkins diet, and say that the study had some serious flaws.

The study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, compared the Atkins diet to a low-fat diet that emphasized whole grains, fruits, and vegetables, and also to a “Mediterranean” diet that allows a modicum of fats in the form of olive oil, nuts, and fish. While obese people who stuck with the Atkins diet for two years lost an average of 12 pounds, compared to 10 pounds for the Mediterranean dieters and 7 pounds for the low-fat dieters, some say that focusing on those numbers misses the point. The study… was supposed to determine which of three types of diets works best. Instead, the results highlight the difficulty of weight loss and the fact that most diets do not work well [The New York Times].
Finally, some question whether the winning diet in this study can really be classified as the Atkins diet that Americans heard so much about in 2003 and 2004. [T]he low-carb dieters in the study “were counseled to choose vegetarian sources of fat and protein.”… “A vegetarian Atkins?” said Dr. Dean Ornish, a proponent of low-fat eating and critic of the recent study. “Most people associate an Atkins diet with bacon, butter and brie, not a plant-based diet” [The New York Times blog].

Under the circumstances, doctors seem unlikely to start recommending the Atkins diet: The study’s credibility is a tad shaky considering it was funded in part by the Atkins Foundation. Moreover, the American Heart Assn. released a statement this morning standing by its long-time recommendation that cutting fat in the diet is the optimal way to achieve good health and weight loss [Los Angeles Times blog].

But nutritionist Christopher Gardner says that dietary guidelines are slowly evolving. [H]e notes that the Mayo Clinic Healthy Weight Pyramid has recently changed, with fruits and vegetables now at the bottom, and grains just above in a lesser role. “This study is totally in line with that,” Gardner says [Science News].

Image: flickr/mamamusings

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine
MORE ABOUT: nutrition, obesity
  • http://bestfreediet.googlepages.com Bass Player Keith Hall

    I loost on the Adkins Diet but gained it all back. I have found the best diet. I have been on the Fletcherism diet for a little over 3 months and have lost 37 pounds. I chew eat bite 32 times and eat Lunch and supper only and have a mid afternoon snack about 3 pm and another one at 8:30 at night. Be sure to chew eat bite at least 32 times. You will eat about 20-30 minutes and feel totally full and are eating a lot less calories by eating less food and you feel totally satisfied. Read Horace Fletcher’s book in Google books called How I Became Young at Sixty.

  • http://www.projectweightloss.com Oana

    Sometimes finding the right diet can cause some serious headaches. An alternative to looking for the right diet is to simply eat healthy. A recently published study (see, e.g., here: http://www.projectweightloss.com) showed that eating healthy, without following a particular diet, keeps the mind healthy to old age.

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  • Patricia G

    Okay, first… the low carb diet featured wasn’t really low carb past the first two months (where the most dramatic weight loss occurred). 120 grams of carbohydrates per day is a moderate, not low carb diet. Second, the AHA has lost all credibility with their recommendation that people not follow low carb diets because of the fat content. If you look at the actual study, the people following the lower carb diet had the BEST lipid profiles. They ate more fat in general and more saturated fats specifically, yet their cholesterol ratio and triglycerides were much better in the early part of the study (when their carbs were lower and fat was higher) than the other two groups. A true low carb diet not only causes more weight loss, it vastly improves your cholesterol ratio and triglycerides.

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  • Chris Wininger

    It is also important to remember that the best diet for you may not be the one that causes you to lose the most weight. I could lose a lot of weight if I went out and ate tape worms. It is sad that people only diet to lose weight. Your concerns should not be about your appearance but about your overall health. So many diets emphasize extremes of one sort or another. This kind of dieting makes you lose weight but often at the expense of depriving the body of things it needs. Instead of focusing on how much weight is lost on a diet people should focus on how much energy they have, how they feel, and if it appears to be balanced and healthy. If you are overweight you will lose weight on such a diet. This will be a consequence of getting healthier. You may not lose weight as fast as you would on an extreme diet like Atkins but you will lose it in the right way so that you actually gain the full amount of health benefits from each pound lost. Just some food for thought.

  • Arnold Newcomb

    Obesity per se is not the problem. The real issue is the health and mortality consequences which follow from obesity. In November Harvard Medical School studied obese mice. The team of researchers gave one group biotivia transmax resveratrol extract, a commercial version of a compound found in red wine, and the other a placebo. The group receiving transmax resveratrol lived 31% longer and did not contract the normal diseases of aging such as diabetes, tumors, and cardiac diseases. Their endurance and energy levels also improved dramatically. Resveratrol is clearly no substitute for a good diet, exercise and a healthy lifestyle but it may augment all of these and extend the potential for ultimate life span. We need to first concentrate of the prevention of the disease of obesity and treat the excess weight as a separate issue. This approach will result in a reduction of suffering and huge health care cost savings.

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  • Christi in NC

    i have used kinda made up my own diet when i realized how badly my body reacts to carbohydrates.. bloodsugar, cravings,etc.
    i eat any carbs i want 1 -2 days a week, never 2 days in row. i eat low fat, lots of dark leafy salads, grilled meats, lots of dairy. i have lost about 45 pounds that way about 5 years ago. i had gained 20 back when i thought i was strong enough to handle once a day… i eat low carb or carbfree when given the choice, complex carbs if available, and simple carbs only if i feel like it and the situation warrants a special treat. since then i have kept my weight, my waist, my energy and feel great. i’m 41 years old and and am proud of myself! it can be done, i went from a size 12/14 to a 6/8. i never knew what a role carbs play with your insulin.. i guess i basically eat like a diabetic.. i’m not! the trick is to find a “diet” that you can commit to as a lifelong choice! find that and the rest will fall into place :)

  • http://www.davidogden.org/loseweightusa/2009/01/17/weight-loss-10/ Shaarangapanaye

    I would not as a rule comment to weblogs however I liked this post so I was compelled to do so. Straying away from the topic somewhat, what are your thoughts concerning walking? It is generally being put forward as the best exercise to burn fat.

  • http://www.best-exercise-to-burn-fat.info Chakrapanye

    I do not generally post to a blog but I am interested in your post therefore I was stimulated to do so. Straying away from the topic a bit, what are your views regarding walking? Which is currently being put forward as the best exercise to burn fat.

  • http://www.rasbany.net Iffati Hassan

    Very nice information. Thanks for this.

  • http://www.dimdiet.com/ Thomas

    My husband and I each lost more than 20 pounds in 12 weeks on NutriSystem – and have kept it off!

  • ricky_mc22

    Walking for exercise is not very useful for burning fat. That idea is perpetuated by the true, but misleading fact, that at moderately elevated heart rates (70% or so of max), the body preferentially burns fat for energy (assuming the baseline insulin levels are low enough to allow this). Although this would seem to indicate low intensity exercise would be best for burning fact, in actuality, the profound hormonal and metabolic effects derived from high intensity exercise produce a cascade of physiological changes which ultimately yield much greater health and fat loss beneifts. Any anectdotal evidence you may have heard regarding the opposite undoubltedly used elderly, obese or unfit/sedentary people as its test subjects. This population is generally unaccustomed to physical stress, so even the slight stress of walking is enough to disrupt homeostasis and drive positive physiological adapatation (i.e. fat loss). An individual will rapidly adapt to walking and progress will cease very quickly. To really explain it would require a lot more space. Check out http://www.crossfit.com and the crossfit journal to get some great fitness advice. They have an interesting article that exactly addresses this subject, named “Myth of the Fat Burning Zone.” I don’t know if this one is available free or not. If not, you can send me an e-mail at ricky_mc22@yahoo.com and I will send the article to you. Good luck!!

  • ricky_mc22

    Oh yeah. Here is another great resource for understanding how exercise works: http://www.hormonalfitness.com/chapter21.htm. Just click on the Chapter 21 link for a 90 page pdf. From what I have read and experienced, I don’t completely agree with the authors programming advice (I think crossfit does it much better). However, he presents a lot of well researched science regarding how your body responds and subsequently adapts to exercise.

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  • http://treadmill-exercise.net/ Christy Kurkeyerian

    who knew treadmills could be used for a full body workout? It was news to me and interesting to find out. Take care!

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