Atkins-type diet may not be so bad for cholesterol

November 26, 2002 in Food Companies, Manufacturing and Trends, Heart Health, Weight Management

Atkins-type diet may not be so bad for cholesterol

A very low carbohydrate, Atkins-type diet appears to shift the size of cholesterol particles from small to large, and that is a good thing for the heart, researchers reported last week the American Heart Association meeting. The findings suggests that the low carb, high protein diet--in which adherents choose burgers and butter over fruit and pasta--may not be all bad news in terms of heart health.

In the 6-month study, U.S. researchers compared a low-carbohydrate diet with a low-fat diet in 120 volunteers who were obese and had high cholesterol levels. The study participants were assigned to either a low-fat diet, in which less than 30% of calories were from fat, or to a low-carbohydrate ketogenic Atkins-type diet plus nutritional supplements, including flaxseed, borage and fish oils. Patients on the low-carb diet lost an average of 31 pounds during the study period compared with a 20-pound weight loss in the low-fat diet group. He added that participants tended to stick to the low-carb diet better than those assigned to the low-fat diet.

Not only was the effect on weight loss greater with the Atkins diet, but it also changed the composition of the cholesterol in the blood, with a shift from small particles to larger ones. The Atkins diet lowered low-density lipoprotein (LDL, or the bad cholesterol) levels and very low-density lipoprotein (VLDL) and raised high-density lipoprotein (HDL, or the good cholesterol) levels.

The beneficial effects of the low-carb diet were especially pronounced on the VLDL type of cholesterol, which is the cholesterol type most strongly linked to heart disease. Results show a 49% reduction in VLDL levels in the low-carb group compared with 17% for those on the low-fat diet. The higher the HDL level, the lower the risk of heart disease. Subjects on the low-fat diet had a 1% decrease in HDL cholesterol, while those on the low-carb diet had an 8% increase in HDL.

However, researchers stopped short of recommending the diet, noting that the jury is still out on the long-term health effects of high-fat, low-carbohydrate diets. This study is one of three randomized trials comparing an Atkins-type diet with other diets.

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