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Low-Carb, High-Fat Diet Drops Weight

Atkins-Like Plan Won't Hurt Cholesterol Levels, but Critics Aren't Impressed

Lots of Fat Allowed continued...

A typical dinner on the Hays plan: "A half-pound of red meat or chicken dark meat (after cooking), with 1/2 cup of vegetables, 1/2 cup of salad, and a half piece of fruit. There's lots of oil but no vinegar or other condiments," he says. Acceptable vegetables include broccoli, cauliflower, and others that grow above ground; allowed fruits (which must be eaten last at every meal to keep glucose levels low) include apples, oranges, peaches, and pears, as long as they are not processed.

"It's very vigorous to eliminate starches completely, but those who do seem to do very well," Hays says. "We followed two other groups of patients who weren't taking statin medications for six months and a year, and they lost 15% and 20% of their body weight respectively and had no adverse effects on their [blood fats]. I've had some patients lose up to 40% of their weight on this plan."

But Is It Healthy?

Not all are convinced a high-fat diet is the best strategy for the long term.

"The main reason people lost weight on this diet is because they're consuming fewer calories than they're used to," says Jen Keller, RD, staff nutritionist for the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, a nonprofit organization that promotes preventive medicine and a vegetarian diet.

"It doesn't matter how you lose weight -- you can starve yourself, you can eat eggs all day, however you do it, if you're eating fewer calories that you're used to, your blood fats will improve in the short-term," she tells WebMD. "But a lot of times, when the weight loss plateaus, the benefits in cholesterol are erased and you're no better off than when you started, and sometimes worse."

Her group has been a longtime and vocal critic of low-fiber, high-fat diets such as Atkins, and she is concerned that such eating plans raise the risk of colon cancer, kidney disease, and other health problems.

"A new study comes out every day talking about what's the best way to lose weight. If you look at the world's population, the healthiest and thinnest people are people who follow a plant-based diet," she says. "As they start to eat more fats, they gain weight and develop health problems."

In an accompanying editorial, Mayo Clinic cardiologist Gerald Gau, MD, urges doctors to keep an open mind about these high-fat diets. "But I am concerned about the long-term cardiovascular risk," he writes. "We should continue to examine the risk-benefit profile of caloric-restricted, more rational diets such as the Mediterranean diet, which recently was associated with a striking decrease in cardiovascular risk."

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