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The 'Eco Atkins' Diet

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WebMD Expert Review

The Eco-Atkins Diet: What It Is

The high-protein, low-carb Atkins Diet has been around for decades, even though many experts believe that a diet so high in animal fats is at odds with good health. Now, there's a vegetarian Atkins Diet alternative, sometimes called the "Eco-Atkins diet."

Studies have shown that the original Atkins Diet could reduce insulin resistance (the body's inability to respond properly to insulin) and raise "good" (HDL) cholesterol, but had little impact on "bad" (LDL) cholesterol.

The Eco Atkins diet came about after researchers at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto decided to see whether a high-protein vegetarian diet could promote weight loss along with a reduction in "bad" cholesterol. They devised the Eco Atkins diet, keeping the same ratio of protein and carbs as the original Atkins diet but replacing the high-fat animal protein with vegetable protein (primarily from soy and gluten).

For their study, published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, the researchers put 47 overweight men and women on either the Eco-Atkins diet or a lacto-ovo (including dairy and eggs) vegetarian diet with more carbs and less fat. Both diets were low in calories, providing 60% of the study participants' calorie requirements.

Over four weeks, both groups lost an average of 8.8 pounds, and improved their blood pressure, cholesterol, and triglyceride levels. But those following the Eco Atkins diet saw a greater reduction (0.6%) in "bad" cholesterol.

The Eco-Atkins Diet: What You Can Eat

Instead of the steaks and bacon found in the original Atkins diet, dieters in the study were given prepared foods that consisted mostly of healthy fats, soy foods, beans, nuts, seeds, no-starch gluten products, fruits, and vegetables. Some 31% of the calories in the diet came from plant proteins, 43% from vegetable oils, and 26% from carbs.

Protein came primarily from gluten, soy beverages; tofu; soy burgers; veggie products such as bacon, breakfast links, and deli slices; nuts; vegetables; and cereals. The diet emphasized viscous vegetables like okra and eggplant, along with other low-starch vegetables.

The diet included "good fats" from canola oil, olive oil, avocado, and nuts. The dieters got carbs from fruits, vegetables, and cereals, with a limited amount of oats and barley. But they ate no starchy foods like enriched white bread, rice, potatoes, or baked goods.

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