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Low-Carb Diets: Safety Issues? continued...

Or maybe the real problem is that Astrup doesn't understand the Atkins diet, suggests Mary Vernon, MD. Vernon is co-author of Atkins Diabetes Revolution, a member of the Atkins Physicians Council, and vice president of the American Society of Bariatric Physicians. She notes that the Atkins diet severely restricts carb intake only during the first two weeks.

"Many of the things he discusses apply only to the two-week induction period," Vernon tells WebMD. "For me, the great thing about Atkins is it allows people to find their own level of carb tolerance. You go down to 20 grams of carbs at first, then you go back up until you find your own level. People with diabetes have to go slower. But in both cases, you don't stay at 20 grams of carbs for the rest of your life. An Atkins maintenance plan would have whole grains like barley and vegetables like baked squash at various levels according to your personal metabolic needs."

Astrup says his research suggests that low-carb diets work not because they are low in carbs, but because they are high in protein. Bite for bite, lean protein is more satisfying than carbs or fats. So people who eat a lot of protein don't feel like eating a lot of anything else.

"The low-carbohydrate diet is working, but this is no reason to skip the six servings of fruits and vegetables and the whole grain that you need every day," Astrup says. "Instead of all the fat in these diets, it is better to have some of the good carbohydrates. ... That is the problem with Atkins. We are concerned that in long term, if you don't get plenty of fruits and vegetables and grain, you don't get sufficient fiber and vitamins."

Therefore, Astrup says, the best diet would include plenty of healthy carbs and a good bit of lean meat, fish, and lean dairy products.

"If you simply increase your intake of lean meat from fish, poultry, pork, beef, and the lean dairy products, which could quite easily be incorporated into a delicious, palatable diet, and you will eat fewer calories," he says. "We think it necessary to get the benefits of Atkins, the high protein, but at the same time to get more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains."

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