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Will Low-Carb Diets Ultimately Make Us Fat?

Many low-carb diets emphasize eating only "good" carbs from fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, but supermarkets are being flooded with low-carb junk food.
WebMD Feature

At 36 years old, Nicola Myrie received a stern warning from her doctor. Lose weight or risk a cardiac event in six or seven years. The New York City accountant immediately went on her own diet of watchful eating. After four months, she despaired at shedding only 6 of her weight loss target of at least 40 pounds.

Then her cardiologist suggested The South Beach Diet, a multistage approach to weight loss starting with a low-carb plan and later allowing the addition of "good carbs." In three months, Nicola dropped 22 pounds and found significant improvements in her blood pressure, cholesterol, and homocysteine levels - a blood chemical linked to inflammation and heart disease.

"I feel fantastic, like I'm in my 20s again," says Nicola, remarking on her renewed confidence and energy. Once she loses 20 more pounds, she vows to maintain some of the South Beach Diet's principles of eating throughout her life.

Friend or Fad?

If health and food experts are right, Nicola's lifelong plan may not materialize.

Hundreds of studies have shown that restrictive diets like the low-carb plan don't keep the weight off in the long run, says Mark Kantor, PhD, associate professor of nutrition and food science at the University of Maryland. He predicts that the popularity of low-carb diets will last no more than five years.

A spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association agrees. "Anything that you have to adhere to has to be un-adhered to at some point," says Lisa Dorfman, MSRD. "People live normal lives. They go to vacation; they go to parties; they have social lives. The problem is that many of those [low-carb] programs don't accommodate those natural and normal life needs."

Dorfman sees the low-carb craze waning and likens it to the low-fat fad of the '90s. A decade ago, the low-fat trend created a stir that not only demonized fat, but also produced hundreds of products that reduced or eliminated it.

Low-carb advocates beg to differ. "To call it a fad is to ignore history," says Matthew Wiant, senior vice president and chief marketing officer for Atkins Nutritionals Inc. "Low-carb diets were popular for the first couple of million years people were on the planet. It's only been since the advent of agriculture and refined food products that higher-carb diets have become the norm."

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