Diet Gurus Belly Up to the Debate Table
Feb. 24, 2000 (Washington) -- You could call it a food fight sponsored by
the government. Today's "Great Nutrition Debate" held by the Department
of Agriculture pitted some of the nation's leading diet gurus against each
other as they discussed the best way to lose weight and stay healthy.
Featured in the fray were Robert Atkins, MD, creator of the controversial
Atkins diet; Morrison Bethea, MD, co-author of Sugar Busters!; Dean
Ornish, MD, author of Dr. Dean Ornish's Program for Reversing Heart
Disease; Barry Sears, PhD, co-author of The Zone; and John
McDougall, MD, founder of the McDougall Plan for healthy living.
The debate produced a lot of heat but little consensus on strategies for
eating healthy. Moreover, there are no long-term scientific data about any of
the diets pitched by the entrepreneurs. Agriculture Secretary Daniel Glickman
said he was interested in funding long-term studies of differing diets,
although he did not want to endorse any particular approach.
According to Glickman, Americans are spending an estimated $50 billion each
year on weight-loss programs, even as some of the most popular diets differ
sharply from federal nutrition guidance that recommends a balanced intake of
dairy, meat, poultry, and fruits and vegetables.
Atkins, famous for his decades-old high-fat, high-protein, low-carbohydrate
diet, insisted his program is the best. "It will correct diabetes, [high
blood pressure], and most of the risk factors for heart disease," he said,
adding that it helps children avoid attention deficit hyperactivity disorder
and sugar cravings.
The Ornish diet is a strict contrast to that meat-and-eggs plan. Now
approved for reimbursement by Medicare in a few trial locations to prevent
heart bypass surgery, the Ornish program is a low-fat vegetarian diet. Ornish
called the Atkins diet "hazardous" and said its anti-carbohydrate
emphasis was "the big lie." He further attacked it by saying that it
brings bad breath and body odor, and that this is evidence that it is
Ornish and American Dietetic Association spokesman Keith-Thomas Ayoob
attacked Atkins for not producing evidence that his diet reverses heart
disease. Atkins responded, "We're working on it. I haven't been able to
fund a study." But Ayoob shot back, "Ten million books in print and you
can't fund a study."
Meanwhile, Sears attacked Ornish's plan, charging that patients on his diet
had died of heart attacks. And Glickman told reporters that he personally would
be unable to adhere to a vegetarian regimen.
Robin Woo, PhD, deputy director of Georgetown University's Center for Food
and Nutrition Policy, tells WebMD, "The [Atkins] low-carb, high-protein
diet is excellent for the early management and treatment of some diabetes
conditions. The Ornish diet, with the very low fat, is very good for some
problems with [hardening of the arteries] and some of the cardiovascular
conditions [such as heart disease and stroke]."