In 1973, the late Dr. Robert Atkins published his first book entitled “Dr. Atkins’ Diet Revolution: the high calorie way to stay thin forever.” In this publication, Dr. Atkins proposed that a diet high in protein but very low in carbohydrates was the key to weight loss. Biologically, it made more sense to him that by depriving the body of carbohydrates, one of the major dietary sources of calories, the body would be forced to utilize its fat stores for energy and thereby weight loss would be the end result.
His book was not such a big seller in the 1970s. However, after some revisions, including a new title and a re-release of the book in today’s society in which obesity has doubled in the past 20 years – with approximately 2/3 of the population being overweight and 1/3 considered obese – Dr. Atkins has sold over 10 million copies of his revised book entitled “Dr. Atkins’ New Diet Revolution.”
Most experts agree that the Atkins’ diet has scientific merit for weight loss and several studies as well as many anecdotal reports from my friends have shown that this diet can result in substantial weight loss in a short period of time. The essence of the diet is minimizing all carbohydrate intake in exchange for unlimited consumption of protein and saturated fat.
There are four phases to the plan with each progressive phase allowing an incremental increase in carbohydrate intake. The main concern about this type of diet is its potential for adverse effects on overall nutrition and cardiovascular health. And, can you blame the naysayers for being concerned?
Here’s an example of a typical Atkins’ diet meal plan: breakfast – eggs, bacon, sausage, coffee with cream, no toast; lunch – turkey lunch meat with cheese, no sliced bread, lettuce salad; dinner – cheeseburger with no bun, spinach with sour cream. How can eating like this everyday be good for you? And more specifically, what happens to your cholesterol when you eat all this protein and saturated fat?
Although one would expect your cholesterol to go through the roof and your blood to become as thick as heavy cream, interestingly, recent studies have not shown this to be the case. When the Atkins’ diet was compared to a conventional low fat low calorie diet, a few interesting observations were noted.
Firstly, the Atkins’ diet was associated with greater weight loss at 6 months than the conventional diet, but the difference narrowed at 1 year. Total cholesterol and LDL initially increased in the first 3-6 months in the Atkins’ diet group. However, at the end of the 1 year follow-up, the levels returned back to their baseline levels. The conventional diet was associated with a mild decrease in these levels. With respect to HDL and triglycerides, the Atkins’ diet not only substantially improved these levels (raised HDL and lowered triglycerides), but it did so by a greater degree than the conventional diet.
Based on the above observations, it appears that the Atkins’ diet may not worsen cholesterol levels, and in fact, may improve them. This observed benefit is largely in part due to weight loss. Does this mean that all people with high cholesterol should go out and eat only bunless cheeseburgers with a side of bacon? I think our common sense would say no and most medical experts would currently agree.
There is not enough information to know whether the Atkins’ diet will increase, have no effect, or decrease your risk of a heart attack or stroke since so many other systems are affected by this radical diet and cholesterol is just one of many risk factors. One fact does remain clear and consistent from all these diet plans – if you are overweight, losing weight is a beneficial thing. Perhaps this is the most important lesson we can learn from the late Dr. Atkins.
Published On: December 12, 2006