The Atkins Diet
Is it Safe and Effective? People in today 's society all want to find the perfect solution to their weight problems. They are looking for a diet which would allow them to eat all the foods they love and still loose weight. Dr. Robert Atkins, founder of the Atkins Diet, devised a diet that allows people to eat such food as fried eggs, bacon, steak and other high-fat foods as long as they drastically reduced the amount of carbohydrates they consumed. Is this a safe and effective way to lose weight or do the people who choose to follow the Atkins plan suffer health problems later in life? Short-term studies indicate that following the Atkins diet allows people to reduce their weight without raising their cholesterol levels or incurring other heart related problems (J. Gage, 2003). A six month study conducted by the Veterans Affairs Department and a yearlong study led by Gary D. Foster showed that "Atkins dieters generally had better levels of good cholesterol and no difference in bad cholesterol or blood pressure" (qtd. In Gage, 2003, p 3). These studies indicated that people lose more weight on Atkins than on a low-fat diet, but the difference was not great (Gage, 2003). According to the findings in these short-term studies people who choose to eat a diet high in fat and low in carbohydrates do not suffer any major health issues. In some cases the dieters have actually improved their health by lowering their cholesterol and losing weight. For years we have been told that eating a low-fat diet and following an exercise plan is the key to losing weight and staying healthy. This approach to healthy weight loss can be a slow process but reduces the presumed risks associated with other diets, such as Atkins. Is it possible to eat high-fat foods daily and not cause damage to you heart? High fat foods have been proven to cause health problems such as high blood pressure, colon cancer, and higher cholesterol as well as many other diseases. A study conducted at the Durham VA Medical Center in North Carolina "showed that on average, mildly obese people lost about 21 pounds in four months on the diet and had positive changes in heart risk factors, such as reduced cholesterol and increased HDL or good cholesterol" (healthcenter.com). This study included 41 people who followed a program which reduced carbohydrate intake, took vitamin supplements, fish oil and required 20 minutes of exercise at least three times per week. Over a period of four months these participants lost approximately 21 pounds and showed a drop in cholesterol levels. This study also showed no concern for dangerous effects on the liver or kidneys (healthcenter.com). Collette Heimowitz, director of nutrition at the Atkins Center in New York has stated that 319 patients were treated for at least a year and the results indicated a reduced risk of heart attack, HDL levels rose and LDL levels dropped (2000). Heimowitz stated "this diet is not for everyone, it 's for those who need a correction in their sugar and carbohydrate metabolism " (2000). Other short-term studies have produced similar results and researchers are convinced that the Atkins diet is perfectly safe for short-term use. Problems with the studies show that longer studies need to be conducted and the participants need to record their fruit and vegetable intake as well as the amount of calories they are consuming. For years we have been told in order to lose weight we must burn more calories than we consume. It is easy for all of us to forget that fat and cholesterol are linked to heart disease when we are being told that it is safe to eat all the high-fat foods we want as long as we forget the breads, pastas and dairy products. How long can a person live without the fiber that is provided in breads, pastas and cereal? Eventually we get tired of eating steak daily and go back to eating the breads and pastas we now crave and the weight starts to pile back on. Until further studies are done that prove Atkins is not safe and can cause health problems dieters will continue to choose the Atkins way of dieting. In a book by Anne Louise Gittleman, Your Body Knows Best, Gittleman states "without some carbohydrates to maintain blood sugar levels and fuel the system, ketone bodiesfatty substances generated from the breakdowns of stored fats or triglyceridesare soon formed in the blood." Before the death of Dr. Atkins, he was sued numerous times by people who had followed his diet and later developed heart problems. A 16 year old girl who was diagnosed as heart healthy by her physician later died of clogged arteries after being on the Atkins diet for two years. Another case reported was a middle-aged man who needed by-pass surgery several years after going on Atkins. He had a clean bill of health from his doctor prior to beginning the regime and was convinced that following Atkins caused his health problems. Could he prove this? There has been no concrete evidence in any of the studies done that would lead us to believe that following the Atkins plan is unhealthy (Lean, 1997). When we think about it, we have to consider the fact that eating foods with so much fat and protein and so little fiber will cause problems eventually. Many people on the Atkins plan find they suffer from constipation which can be attributed to too little fiber in their diet. Other people complain about feeling fatigue all the time and some have reported problems with chest pains. These are things that need to be considered when considering the Atkins plan. More long-term studies need to be conducted in a controlled environment to see what types of risk these people are opening themselves up to. The best way for a person to lose weight is to use portion control, drink plenty of water, and get some exercise. The more sedentary a person is, the more likely they are to become obese. We have to make sure we burn as many, if not more, calories than we consume on a daily basis. The key to successful weight loss is and always will be to eat a healthy diet which consists of fat, protein and carbohydrates and to get plenty of exercise. Fad diets will be around, but we have to realize we did not gain the weight overnight and we are not able to lose it overnight and maintain a healthy body. To date there have been no long-term studies done that prove the Atkins diet is unhealthy. All the data from the short-term studies seem to indicate that following Atkins for a period of six months can actually help reduce the risks some people have in suffering from heart disease. Dieters are and will always be looking for a quick fix to a problem that did not develop overnight. Until further research is done on Atkins it is my opinion that following the Atkins diet will not cause any major health problems.
Gage, J. (2003). Two Studies Vindicate Atkins Diet, WCCO News Online, p.1. Retrieved August 27, 2004 from freerepublic.com
Barnard, N. (2003) A Warning to Atkins Dieters, www.healthcenter.com Retrieved August 22, 2004 from Academic Search Premier database.
Stein, J. (2004). Paging Dr. Fatkins? Time, 163(8), 37. Retrieved August 23, 2004 from Academic Search Premier database.
Gittleman, A. L. (2003). Your Body Knows Best, p. 47. Retrieved August 30, 2004 from www.cbsnews.com/stories/2003.
Lean ME et al.: Weight loss with high and low carbohydrate 1200 kcal diets in free living
women. Eur J Clin Nutr. Apr 51(4): 243-8, 1997. Retrieved August 17, 2004 from
Academic Search Premier database.
References: Gage, J. (2003). Two Studies Vindicate Atkins Diet, WCCO News Online, p.1. Retrieved August 27, 2004 from freerepublic.com Barnard, N. (2003) A Warning to Atkins Dieters, www.healthcenter.com Retrieved August 22, 2004 from Academic Search Premier database. Stein, J. (2004). Paging Dr. Fatkins? Time, 163(8), 37. Retrieved August 23, 2004 from Academic Search Premier database. Gittleman, A. L. (2003). Your Body Knows Best, p. 47. Retrieved August 30, 2004 from www.cbsnews.com/stories/2003. Lean ME et al.: Weight loss with high and low carbohydrate 1200 kcal diets in free living women. Eur J Clin Nutr. Apr 51(4): 243-8, 1997. Retrieved August 17, 2004 from Academic Search Premier database.