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How the Atkins Diet Fares in Cholesterol

Atkins-Like Diet Worse for Cholesterol Compared to South Beach, Ornish Diets, Study Says

Atkins Responds

Miller says the study makes it clear that high-saturated fat diets are pro-inflammatory and that they promote heart disease in other ways as well.

But a spokeswoman for Atkins Nutritionals says the eating plan the study participants followed in no way resembles what is recommended for weight maintenance.

In an email exchange with WebMD, Atkins Vice President of Nutrition and Education Colette Heimowitz, MSc, says that on the maintenance phase of the Atkins diet, fat should make up no more than 40% of total calories, and no more than 10% of calories should come from saturated fat.

The study participants typically ate about three times as much saturated fat as they should have if they were following Atkins for weight maintenance, she says.

Heimowitz says that Atkins dieters consistently show improvements in blood fats, or lipids, in the form of decreased triglycerides. But this improvement was not seen in the study participants while they were on the low-carbohydrate, high-fat diet.

“Whatever diet Dr. Miller used, it was not ‘Atkins’, and the lipid response he reported is what one might expect to result from a rich mixture of carbohydrates and fat and overfeeding to avoid weight loss,” she notes.

She says three decades of research has shown the Atkins diet to be safe, and that the study by Miller and colleagues was too small and too short to allow for meaningful conclusions.

“The final sample size was 18, yet they make generalizations to many people,” she says. “The entire duration of the treatment was four weeks, yet they make statements about ‘long-term maintenance.’”

Ornish Weighs In

Miller acknowledges that the maintenance phase of the Atkins diet is not very different from the typical Western diet.

But he says many people stay on the more extreme, early phase of the diet, which is much higher in saturated fats, long after weight loss is no longer a goal.

“The main message is that reducing the saturated fat in the diet is better for overall heart health,” he says.

Low-fat diet proponent Dean Ornish, MD, tells WebMD that the study by Miller and colleagues explores the impact of high saturated-fat diets in a unique way.

He cites a separate study, published last week in the journal Archives of Internal Medicine, finding that older people who eat large amounts of saturated fat in the form of red and processed meat are more likely to die of heart disease and cancer.

He says the two studies “directly contradict” the idea that all diets are equally healthy as long as they promote weight loss.

Ornish is founder and president of the Preventive Medicine Research Institute in Sausalito, Calif.

The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends that no more than 35% of total daily calories come from fat, and no more than 7% of calories come from saturated fat sources.

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