First a personal disclosure: I've lost almost 80 pounds following the Atkins diet. My total cholesterol has dropped 30 points, my HDL has gone up 10 points, my triglycerides have dropped significantly. My total cholesterol/HDL ratio is under 5 for the first time in years. My blood pressure has dropped from 135/95 to 115/72. In short, by every medical measure, I am significantly healthier than before I went on the Atkins diet.
Yep, the diet was a complete failure.....
Ok, anecdotal evidence doesn't mean anything; we need controlled studies. Well, all the hoopla surrounding the Atkins diet comes from a new study which indicates that the Atkins diet does work, and may work better than the standard low fat diet advocated by the AHA. So how does Mr. Fumento attack the diet? Well, let's see.
First, he'll use a little misinformation.
The Atkins Diet—the famous high-fat, low-carb regime that lets dieters load up on pork rinds and Scrapple as long as they avoid potatoes and Wheaties—works. The American Heart Association has been wrong all along, as has essentially the entirely American medical establishment. Not only is gorging on fat the key to becoming thin, it's heart-healthy to boot. So say the headlines:
Nowhere in the book does it tell you to gorge yourself on fat. In fact, Dr. Atkins repeatedly says that you eat only to satiation. He doesn't recommend binging on high fat foods, but replacing the calories you normally get through excessive carbs with fat and protein. Even a casual reading of the book makes this perfectly clear, so why would Mr. fumento repeat this canard? Either he hasn't read the book, or he is misrepresenting the facts for his own purpose.
Next he relates the results of the study, in which 120 dieters followed either the Atkins or the AHA plans. The Atkins group lost twice as much weight as the AHA dieters. Mr. Fumento dismisses this as unremarkable
Gary Foster of the University of Pennsylvania co-authored a study conducted in virtually the same manner as Westman's. Foster, whose work will soon appear in a major medical journal, provides a simple explanation for the Atkins weight loss. The regimen "gives people a framework to eat fewer calories, since most of the choices in this culture are carbohydrate driven," he says. "Over time people eat fewer calories."
Damn him! Tricking us into eating fewer calories while enjoying it more.
Next, Mr Fumento examines the retention rate. After all the true measure of success with a diet is whether you stick to it or not, right?
In any event, the main issue with any diet—be it Atkins, popcorn, or jelly bean—isn't whether people can lose weight in the short-term but rather whether they can stick to the regimen and keep the pounds off not for just half a year but essentially forever. Yet completely lost in the media mania was that among the 60 Atkins dieters in the Westman group analyzed for blood lipids, the dropout rate was 43 percent.
Thus almost half the Atkins cohort couldn't stay with the steak and bacon routine for even six months. By comparison, only 25 percent of the high-carb eaters dropped out.
Interestingly, while he doesn't give a source for this info, one of the citations he makes earlier in the article contradicts this claim:
After six months, the people on the Atkins diet had lost 31 pounds, compared with 20 pounds on the AHA diet, and more people stuck with the Atkins regimen.
So which is true? Once the study is available online, we'll know. Until then, consider this:
According to existing medical research, most dieters (90% or better) regain all the weight they lost and some, as much as one third, gain back more.
Not exactly a ringing endorsement for the AHA approach.
Again, reading the book presents a different picture of the long term success rate of the Atkins Plan. How can you judge the effectiveness of a diet by including what happens when people go off of it?
Next, Mr Fumento casts doubt on the validity of the study because it was funded by Atkins. What he doesn't mention, but is included in one of his references, is that Westman approached Atkins, not the other way around, and that his intent was to challenge the diet.
Westman, an internist at Duke’s diet and fitness center, said he decided to study the Atkins approach because of concern over so many patients and friends taking it up on their own. He approached the Robert C. Atkins foundation in New York City to finance the research.
Let's take a closer look at a study mentioned by Mr. Fumento, conducted by Randy Seeley. fumento mentions it as supporting his contntion that Atkins doesn't work. However, reading the summery of the report, as yet unpublished, gives a different picture. The summary is available online at the Atkins Center.
Thirty-four mildly obese women (BMI of 30-34 kg/m2) were recruited for a six-month clinical study to investigate the effects of a low carbohydrate, ketogenic diet on body weight and cardiovascular risk factors. The study included a three-month weight loss intervention followed by a three-month follow-up period during which no intervention occurred...Twenty-six subjects (76%) completed the trial, with an equal number of dropouts from each diet group. Mean weight loss was significantly greater in the ketogenic diet group than in the control diet group at three months (8.0+1.0 vs. 4.4+1.1 kg; p<0.02) and at six months (7.9+1.4 vs. 3.2+1.3 kg; p<0.02)...Blood pressure, total cholesterol, and LDL-cholesterol decreased, and HDL-cholesterol increased, in both groups. Plasma insulin levels decreased in both groups suggesting an improvement in insulin sensitivity. Triglyceride levels decreased significantly more in the ketogenic diet group than in the control diet group (65.3+17.2 vs. 15.2+8.2 mg/dl; p<0.02) at three months. These results indicate that for short periods of time, a low carbohydrate, ketogenic diet is efficacious in causing weight loss and has no deleterious effects on cardiovascular risk factors.
Sounds to me like he is saying that Atkins plan works better, and is healthy.
In fact, if you go to the Atkins website, you'll find several comparative diet studies performed over the last dew decades which come to the same conclusion.
Next, Mr Fumento tries to argue away the success of Atkins at improving blood chemistry
"Often just losing weight alone will cause improvement in triglyceride and cholesterol levels," the president of the American Heart Association Dr. Robert Bonow told me. Since the Atkins dieters did lose more weight than those on the high-carb diet, it only stands to reason that by comparison their blood levels would also improve more.
Now explain to me again how this means Atkins doesn't work? Mr Fumento quotes a study (Seeley) which concludes that people on Atkins lose more weight and have better blood chemistry than those on the AHA recommended diet and uses that to say Atkins doesn't work.
Next he closes with this little bon mot:
The media tried to fill the need, but ultimately failed the public. "It just makes people confused and frustrated," an exasperated Seeley said. Yes, and fatter by the day.
This despite the fact that fat consumption per capita is at an all time low.
Shouldn't that tell us something?
Mr. Fumento also ignores the graduated levels of the Atkins diet. While the initial phases do severely restrict carb intake, the later phases are much more liberal, and allow you to determine your body's own level of carb intake to regulate weight. In this later stage, fat calories are replaced by protein, and some carbs, resulting in a more balanced diet.
What really surprises me is that Mr. Fumento failed to zero in on the real weaknesses of the Atkins plan. First, it is very difficult to maintain proper nutrition, particularly during the early stages of the diet. Once you are on maintenance, you are eating enough vegetables to meet your nutritional needs, but until then, vitamin supplements are a necessity. Second is the issue of colon health. The Atkins diet allows very little roughage, particularly in the beginning stages, which can cause some dieters problems. A fiber supplement is a good idea, particularly during induction.
I'm disappointed in the article, which seems to substitute bias for science. I expect more from Reason.