What's the deal with "low-carb" "high-protein" diets??

I would like to take a moment to address not just the Atkins Diet, but all diets out there promoting low-carb high-protein diets (ex., South Beach diet, the Zone, the Paleo diet) to clear up any confusion that may still exist around this topic.  First of all, eating this way is one of the single greatest threats to American health we are currently facing. It has been the argument in the beginning of many diet books that since America has been listening to the recommendations of the "experts" {for the past 20 years} to eat a low-fat diet, people are fatter than ever.  And they are!! However, there is one inconvenient fact that has been easily ignored regarding weight gain on a low-fat diet and that is, "Americans consumed thirteen pounds more added fats and oils per person in 1997 than in 1970, up from 52.6 to 65.6 pounds." (Information Plus. Nutrition: a key to good health. Wylie, TX: Information Plus, 1999.) (The China Study, 2006. Page 95.)  When considered as a percentage (%), there has been a trend to consuming fewer of our total calories as fat, however, that's only because consumption of sugary junk food has outpaced consumption of fat.  It is easy to see by looking at the numbers that America has clearly not adopted the "low-fat diet".

I have read statements in many diet books claiming that the “low-fat diet craze” has been tried and failed.  Dr. Colin T. Campbell describes this “either as severe ignorance or opportunistic deceit”, and I couldn’t think of a better way to put it (The China Study, 2006. Page 95.)  Unfortunately these diet books have become extremely popular, even though most of these authors have had zero training in nutrition, because people do actually lose weight, at least in the short term.

In the following published study by Westman EC, Yancy WS, Edman JS, et al. titled "Carbohydrate Diet Program" (Westman EC, Yancy WS, Edman JS, et al. "Carbohydrate Diet Program." Am. J. Med. 113(2002): 30–36.), which was funded of course by the Atkins Center for Complementary Medicine, researchers put 51 obese people on the Atkins diet (Atkins RC. Dr. Atkins' New Diet Revolution.New York, NY: Avon Books, 1999.)  Over the course of 6 months, the 41 subjects who maintained on the diet lost an average of 20 pounds and, their average blood cholesterol levels decreased slightly (Westman EC, Yancy WS, Edman JS, et al. "Carbohydrate Diet Program." Am. J. Med. 113(2002): 30–36.)  It was because of these two results, this study was portrayed in the media as real, scientific proof that the Atkins diet works and is safe.  It’s truly unfortunate the media didn’t dig any deeper than that!

Holes in the study…these obese subjects were severely restricting calories during the study.  Compared to the "average" American, they were consuming 35% fewer calories!  Regardless of what you are eating, if you decrease your calorie intake by 35%, you are going to lose weight and your cholesterol levels will improve in the short term.  I love how Dr. Campbell words it in his China Study…”I don’t care if you eat worms and cardboard; if you eat 35% fewer calories, you will lose weight and your cholesterol levels will improve in the short run, but that is not to say that worms and cardboard form a healthy diet.”  (The China Study, 2006. Page 96.)  People cannot sustain this type of caloric restriction for the long hall and that is precisely why there are no long-term studies showing success with these “low-carb” diets.

Now to really blow your mind…in this same study I reference above, funded by the Atkins group, researchers report, “At some point during the twenty-four weeks, 28 subjects (68%) reported constipation, 26 (63%) reported bad breath, 21 (51%) reported headache, 4 (10%) noted hair loss, and 1 woman (1%) reported increased menstrual bleeding.”  They also refer to other research, saying, “Adverse effects of this diet in children have included calcium oxalate and urate kidney stones…vomiting, amenorrhea, hypercholesterolemia, and …vitamin deficiencies.  They also found that the dieters had a 53% INCREASE in the amount of calcium they were excreting in their urine.  This is not a good sign for bone health!  So…while there may be some weight loss in the beginning, some of which is fluid loss (Bilsborough SA, and Crowe TC. "Low-carbohydrate diets: what are the potential short- and long-term health implications?" Asia Pac. J. Clin. Nutr. 12 (2003): 396–404.), this weight loss "may come with a very high price". (The China Study, 2006. Page 96.)

What do researchers in Australia have to say about low-carbohydrate diets: “Complications such as heart arrhythmias, cardiac contractile function impairment, sudden death, osteoporosis, kidney damage, increased cancer risk, impairment of physical activity and lipid abnormalities can all be linked to long-term restriction of carbohydrates in the diet.” (Bilsborough SA, and Crowe TC. "Low-carbohydrate diets: what are the potential short- and long-term health implications?" Asia Pac. J. Clin. Nutr. 12 (2003): 396–404.)

Long story short:  Most people are unable to maintain this type of diet long term, and if they manage to do so, they are asking for potentially serious health consequences down the road.

Final thought:  Atkins recommends more than just the diet.  Dr. Atkins states that many of his patients require nutrient supplements, some of which are used to combat “common dieters’ problems.” (Atkins, 1999. Page 275.)  In one passage he writes, “Add to the [antioxidants] the vita-nutrients known to be useful for each of the myriad medical problems my patients face, and you’ll see why many of them take over 30 vitamin pills a day.” (Atkins, 1999. Page 103)  30 PILLS A DAY?!?!  That is ludicrous, especially when considering on a whole foods plant-based diet, you will get all the vitamins and nutrients you need WITHOUT additional pills!

 

 

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