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Do Low-Carb Diets Really Work?

With all the diets out there in the marketplace, you must wonder which ones work the best. You may have your answer, at least according to one team of researchers.

Women who recently followed the Atkins low-carb diet for a year dropped at least twice as much weight than women on three other plans, university scientists said recently.

According to the new Journal of the American Medical Association, researchers at Stanford University's medical school found that the Atkins plan - which has incurred the wrath of some nutritionists and health experts - outpaced The Zone, Ornish and LEARN diets for weight loss.

The findings show the 311 women lost:

•  10.4 pounds on Atkins;

•  5.7 pounds on LEARN;

•  4.8 pounds on Ornish;

•  3.5 pounds on The Zone.

The Zone isn't quite as low in carbs as Atkins, but still qualifies as "low-carb." LEARN -  Lifestyle, Exercise, Attitudes, Relationships and Nutrition - is based on the federal government's guidelines and calls for meals that are low in fat and calories, but high in carbs. The Ornish diet is high in carbs.

According to the results, the women lost the most weight early in the project, such as the 13-pound average for the Atkins group after six months. Then, most women began regaining some of the lost weight, which was most noticeable in the Atkins group.

Critics abound 

The Atkins diet, which requires limiting carbs in favor of big portions of protein and fat and small amounts of vegetables and other carb-rich foods, was pioneered in the 1970s by Dr. Robert Atkins.

The study comes at a time when critics contend that low-carbohydrate diets are too high in fat and protein and too low in carbs,  which causes dieters to experience side effects. Cutting out carbohydrates by eliminating fruit, vegetables, nuts, grains and cereal, might deprive the body of protective nutrients and lead to a risk of osteoporosis, some cancers and heart disease, some health experts said.

Despite the criticism, the Atkins program, which is very low in carbs, has won legions of fans throughout the world. In fact, some weight-loss experts said the Stanford study confirms other research that shows limiting carbohydrates is much better than cutting fat and calories.

"One of the concerns that health professionals have had about these very low carbohydrate diets is that, possibly, the high fat content would be bad for people in terms of their cholesterol levels or their blood pressure," said Dr. Christopher Gardner, a researcher at Stanford's Disease Prevention Research Center in Palo Alto, Calif., who lead the study.

However, according to his findings, blood pressure and cholesterol stayed healthy in women on the Atkins diet.  

"If you look at the last couple decades in American dietary changes, calories have been creeping up due to refined carbohydrates -- sodas, high-fructose corn syrups, snack foods," Gardner said. "I think that Atkins may have been right on the money in terms of the thing that's been causing us to gain weight."

'Questions remain' 

The project was paid for by the federal government's National Institutes of Health, the Community Foundation of Southeastern Michigan and other healthcare groups. Manufacturers of the diets were not involved in the funding.

"While questions remain about long-term effects, these findings have important implications for clinical practice and health-care policy," the researchers wrote. "Physicians whose patients initiate a low-carbohydrate diet can be reassured that weight loss is likely to be at least as large as for any other dietary pattern.

"As with any diet, physicians should caution patients that long-term success requires permanent alterations in energy intake and energy expenditure, regardless of macronutrient content."

In other words, you still must burn more calories than you take in by eating healthy and excercising.

But the Associated Press reported that critics, including founders of The Zone and Ornish, said the Stanford study wasn't a fair comparison because few women followed the diets really closely, although the ones in the Atkins group came closest. 

The study "had a good concept and incredibly pathetic execution," said Zone diet creator Barry Sears.

"It's a lot easier to follow a diet that tells you to eat bacon and brie than to eat predominantly fruits and vegetables," said Dr. Dean Ornish.

Other health experts wondered how Atkins will help people keep the weight off over the long haul and if eating foods high in fat will eventually lead to medical problems.



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