Monday, August 29, 2011

Rethinking the Atkins diet

In diet studies, big question goes unexplored
My Turn

August 23, 2010|By Bob Kaplan, Special to the Los Angeles Times

After losing weight and keeping it off on the Atkins diet, it seems odd that no one wants to find out why this higher-calorie option appears to be more effective.

Researchers (funded by the National Institutes of Health) randomized half their subjects to a diet that limited both calories and fat — women ate no more than 1,500 calories a day; men no more than 1,800. The other half were told to avoid carbohydrate-rich foods, as I've been doing for 15 years, but could eat all the protein and fat they wanted.

The study's authors concluded both diets were equally effective for weight loss, and that is how the press reported it. But the low-carb diet also was associated with better heart health.

Let that sink in for a moment.

The people on the low-fat, low-calorie diet were enduring what nutritionists used to call "semi-starvation diets." They were presumably being deprived of the pleasure of satiation and expected to go at least a little bit hungry every day. Yet the diet that allowed for gluttony was just as effective, and healthier, than the diet that implied temperance, moderation and self-restraint.

The study raises two important questions about our national problems with weight: First, why would a diet unrestricted in calories produce the same amount of weight loss as a diet that requires, in effect, a lifetime of semi-starvation and the one we've been told to live by throughout the obesity epidemic: eat fruits and vegetables and whole grains and low-fat dairy products, just eat significantly less of them?

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