Atkins diet no better than low fat, higher carb diet

May 27, 2003 in Nutrition Topics in the News, Weight Management

Atkins diet no better than low fat, higher carb diet

Shunning starchy foods, fruits and dairy in favor of meat and fat helps obese people shed some weight faster than a standard low-fat diet, but over time there may not be a big difference, say U.S. researchers. Two recent studies appeared to confirm some of what the late Dr. Robert Atkins preached for decades until his death last month: that carbohydrates, a major energy source, cause weight gain.

In one six-month study, obese volunteers on the low-carbohydrate, high-fat and high-protein Atkins diet lost 13 pounds versus 4 pounds for obese people on a low-fat diet.

In a second year-long study, obese people on the Atkins diet lost nearly 10 pounds more after six months than volunteers on a conventional diet. But by the end of the year, the differences between the two groups were not significant, suggesting the Atkins diet is no better at helping fat people shed pounds than traditional weight-loss regimens. The average weight loss was greater in the low-carbohydrate groups than in the low-fat groups, but the difference was no longer significant at 12 months in the trial in which follow-up lasted that long. This was because of weight regain among those on the Atkins' style diet, suggesting that long term adherence to such a plan may be difficult.

The weight lost in each study was relatively tiny compared with the volunteers' size. The average starting weight among the volunteers in the first study was 288 pounds. Those in the second were about 50 pounds overweight.

The Atkins diet, first published in 1972, has been criticized by doctors because its high fat content increases the risk of heart disease, kidney problems and cancer. The 12-month study found, however, that triglyceride levels fell further and "good" cholesterol levels rose higher on the Atkins regimen than on the low-fat diet.

The researchers in the first study, from the Philadelphia Veterans Affairs Medical Center, said because low-fat diets are known to reduce the risk of heart disease, longer-term studies of the Atkins diet are needed. The authors of the second agreed, concluding: "There is not enough information to determine whether the beneficial effects of the Atkins diet outweigh its potential adverse effects on the risk of coronary heart disease in obese persons."

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