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
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
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."
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
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.