How Safe Is the Atkins Diet?
Dieters swear by the low-carb, high-protein plan. You get to eat all the burgers, steak, bacon, and eggs you want -- and lose weight doing it. It's even been shown to lower cholesterol. But at what cost?
Fad diets come and go, but The Atkins Diet -- a high-protein,
low-carbohydrate weight-loss plan --seems never to go away, no matter how many
medical professionals denounce it.
"Low-carb diets have been linked to increased frequency of
colon cancer, formation of kidney stones, kidney disease, and even
osteoporosis," says Neal Barnard, MD, president of the Physicians
Commission for Responsible Medicine, a nonprofit research group based in
Washington. "The weight loss you see in low-carb diets isn't all that much
better than what you see in studies of low-fat, vegetarian diets."
Putting it more bluntly is Kiku Collins-Trentylon, a sports
trainer in New York City, who says it's "a pretty evil diet. We all want to
sit on our couches, eat nonstop, and have perfect, sculpted bodies.
Unfortunately, it doesn't work that way."
Meat is the culprit in low-carb diet danger, says Barnard.
"The reason for the health worries is in large part due to
red meat," he says. "People who eat meat every day have three times
greater risk of developing colon cancer. And then there is the problem of the
kidneys. They aren't designed to work on an oil slick of fat."
Big, Fat Controversy
In the summer of 2002, however, both Time magazine and
The Sunday New York Times Magazine have published much-talked-about
stories that say Atkins may not be as bad for heart health as previously
believed. These stories were sparked in part by a recent study from researchers
at Duke University showing most people who ate a high-protein, low-carb diet
for six months lost 20 pounds.
That much was expected. What wasn't expected was that the
researchers didn't see strong evidence of the diet causing any health problems.
In fact, both LDL "bad" cholesterol and HDL "good" cholesterol
The Duke study shows part of why the diet is so popular -- it
can produce significant weight loss. What's more, it produces it without a lot
of annoying calorie counting and the irritability associated with diets.
Known for Easy Weight Loss
"You're not as hungry as with other diets, and that is a
really good thing," says Jenny Anderson, an Internet consultant from
Mamaroneck, N.Y., who is on the diet. "That makes it easier to stay on it.
So does seeing results fairly quickly. One bad thing is that it forbids
caffeine, and I had a lot of bad headaches from coffee withdrawal."