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Low-Carb Diets Work, but Safety Still an Issue

Not Enough Research to Declare Low-Carb Safe in the Long Term

Low-Carb Diets: Safety Issues? continued...

Astrup says his research suggests that low-carb diets work not because they are low in carbs, but because they are high in protein. Bite for bite, lean protein is more satisfying than carbs or fats. So people who eat a lot of protein don't feel like eating a lot of anything else.

"The low-carbohydrate diet is working, but this is no reason to skip the six servings of fruits and vegetables and the whole grain that you need every day," Astrup says. "Instead of all the fat in these diets, it is better to have some of the good carbohydrates. ... That is the problem with Atkins. We are concerned that in long term, if you don't get plenty of fruits and vegetables and grain, you don't get sufficient fiber and vitamins."

Therefore, Astrup says, the best diet would include plenty of healthy carbs and a good bit of lean meat, fish, and lean dairy products.

"If you simply increase your intake of lean meat from fish, poultry, pork, beef, and the lean dairy products, which could quite easily be incorporated into a delicious, palatable diet, and you will eat fewer calories," he says. "We think it necessary to get the benefits of Atkins, the high protein, but at the same time to get more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains."

That's an interesting idea, Vernon says -- but no more than an "interesting hypothesis."

"I think more protein is not the secret. The science isn't in on this -- that is Dr. Astrup's personal slant," Vernon says. "Others feel the fat component may be important. But if you want to look at outcomes, look at the outcomes in the studies Dr. Astrup cites: People on Atkins have a better cardiovascular risk, their weight is lower, and their diabetes risk is lower. For me, this is the most potent tool I have ever found to manage people's metabolism."

Both Astrup and Vernon are eager to see more research. And with all the interest in low-carb diets, more research is sure to come. Stay tuned. Meanwhile, both Astrup and Vernon agree that an active lifestyle -- that is, more exercise -- is absolutely needed for weight loss and good health.

"Obesity is an imbalance between your genes and your environment. You cannot change your genes so you must change your environment," Astrup says. "Our main problem is we are so physically inactive we burn off too few calories every day. Increasing physical activity makes it so much easier. Then you don't need all these diets. You can just stick to some of this easy advice like 'cut portion size' and 'cut down on fat and drinks full of sugar or alcohol.' That may be enough -- if you are physically active."

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