New Atkins Studies Spark Debate

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Two new studies comparing Atkins-style diets with high-carbohydrate diets, published in the May 22, 2003 New England Journal of Medicine, generated numerous headlines. Some reports suggested that the studies proved Atkins was right while others suggested the diet had little impact on weight.

Initially and for up to 6 months in both studies, people on the Atkins diet lost more weight than those following a conventional moderate-fat diet. But after 1 year those following the Atkins diet did not lose significantly more weight than the other dieters. Neither diet was very effective. The weight lost – less than 10 pounds – was tiny compared with the initial weight of the subjects. The average starting weight in the first study was 288 pounds; those in the second study were 50+ pounds overweight.

Compliance was poor in both studies – 40% of the Atkins dieters dropped out. The media portrayed the conventional diet as a “high-carbohydrate diet,” but it was rich in refined carbohydrates instead of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and beans. The “high-carbohydrate diet” had 33% fat calories compared to 41%?for Atkins dieters.

The National Weight Control Registry has documented more than 4,500 people who’ve lost a lot of weight and kept it off long-term. Most followed a high-carbohydrate diet with more fiber and a lower calorie density and exercised a lot. No more than 1% of those who lost a lot of weight and kept it off at least one year, used the Atkins diet even though millions of people have tried it. A recent study found people consuming diets higher in fat and protein were more likely to be overweight than those eating more carbohydrate.1

Bottom Line:
Nearly all nutrition researchers agree a diet rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grains and less saturated and hydrogenated fat combined with regular exercise is best for long-term health and weight control. That is the antithesis of the Atkins approach.

By James Kenney, PhD, RD, LD, FACN.

1. J Am Coll Nutr 2002;21:268-74

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