Skip to content
My WebMD Sign In, Sign Up

Weight Loss & Diet Plans

Font Size

Skeptics Think Twice About Atkins Diet

New Studies in 2002 Left Us Asking If High-Fat Diet Is Safe After All

Atkins Diet -- It's the Calories

Volumetrics author Barbara Rolls, PhD, who holds the Guthrie Chair in Nutrition at Penn State University, offers a very simple explanation as to why people lose weight doing Atkins: They're cutting calories, even if they don't realize it. "No one has shown, in any studies, that anything magical is going on with Atkins other than calorie restriction. The diet is very prescriptive, very restrictive, and limits half of the foods we normally eat," she says. "In the end it's not fat, it's not protein, it's not carbs -- it's calories. You can lose weight on anything that helps you to eat less, but that doesn't mean it's good for you."

 

To be fair, the Atkins diet has gotten a somewhat undeserved reputation as an "all cheeseburgers, no vegetables" plan. Although the early "induction" phase drastically reduces carbohydrate consumption, requiring no fruits and only a very few leafy greens, that's only the first two weeks. "Induction is very severe, but then you go up the carbohydrate ladder. You may end up eating a fair amount of carbohydrates again six months down the line, although the diet really advises you to avoid some things, like white breads, white potatoes, and white rice, forever," says Foster. "People will say that Atkins doesn't let you eat fruits and vegetables, and that's inaccurate. He advises you to add fruits and vegetables and whole grains early on in the process."

 

But the diet still isn't balanced, says the American Heart Association, troubled by implications that it's changed its position on Atkins since the November meeting. (It hasn't.) "A high intake of saturated fats over time raises great concern about increased cardiovascular risk; the study did not follow participants long enough to evaluate this," the AHA said in a release.

 

So why did "bad cholesterol" levels go down for Atkins dieters in the studies? "Any time people lose weight by any means, cholesterol goes down," says Neal Barnard, MD, president of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine and a leading Atkins critic. "But the idea that Atkins is a cholesterol-lowering diet -- the evidence on that is at best very mixed."

 

Plus, slashing carbs and gulping fat may be dangerous to more than just your heart health. Barnard points to research recently published in the American Journal of Kidney Disease, based on studies of 10 healthy people put on the Atkins diet. "Because their focus is kidney disease, they wanted to look at calcium loss. It was awful: On the induction diet, calcium losses were 65% above normal, and even on the more moderate maintenance diet, calcium losses averaged 55% above normal," Barnard says. "Osteoporosis is a bad enough problem as it is. If you do something that increases calcium losses, you're just asking for hip fractures."

Today on WebMD

vegetables
Video
Woman trying clothes / dress
Assessment
 
Woman looking at reflection in mirror
Article
Hot cup of coffee
Quiz
 
woman shopping fresh produce
Video
butter curl on knife
Quiz
 
eating out healthy
Article
Smiling woman, red hair
Article
 
6-Week Challenges
Want to know more?
Chill Out and Charge Up Challenge – How to help your tribe de-stress and energize.
Spark Change Challenge - Ready for a healthy change? Get some major motivation.
I have read and agreed to WebMD's Privacy Policy.
Enter cell phone number
- -
Entering your cell phone number and pressing submit indicates you agree to receive text messages from WebMD related to this challenge. WebMD is utilizing a 3rd party vendor, CellTrust, to provide the messages. You can opt out at any time.
Standard text rates apply
thumbnail_woman_tossing_spinach
Video
lunchbox
Article
 
What Girls Need To Know About Eating Disorders
Article
teen squeezing into jeans
fitfor Teens
 

Special Sections