The question that many people ask today is this: Is the Atkins Diet safe? The Atkins’ Diet Revolution was first published in 1972, almost 50 years ago.
Ever since then, the dieting community have been split into two groups – those that have tried it and lost weight, and support the method whole heartedly, and those that claim that it is a high risk, unhealthy diet that will lead to heart disease, high blood pressure and dangerously high cholesterol.
Dr. Atkins provided many case studies of people that had shown reduced blood pressure, bad cholesterol and other indicators of heart disease, however, critics claim that this is not the whole picture.
So, where are we now, in 2021, with the Atkins’ diet? The Atkins Diet is certainly not in the press as much as it was before. When celebrities such as Jennifer Aniston, Geri Halliwell and Minnie Driver were all “on Atkins” many people followed suit, as often happens. However, there has certainly been no recent press regarding celebs on Atkins. In addition to that, some libraries in reviewing their diet book collections and have discarded copies of the Atkins approach.
The most important opinion however, is that of the scientific community. So, how does the medical and scientific community feel about Atkins today?
Scientific Timeline on Atkins:
In 2003, research carried out by the Weight and Eating Disorders Program at the University of Pennsylvania showed that the Atkins diet can actually reduce the risk of heart disease. The results of the study came as a surprise to lead researcher Gary Foster.
In this study, following the Atkins diet raised HDL (good cholesterol) levels by 11%, compared with only a 1.6% increase for low-fat dieters.
Also, triglycerides were reduced by 17% after a year on Atkins, whereas low-fat diets showed no improvements.
Research did not determine how the diet worked, but suggested that increased weight loss was the result of more structure eating, and from dieters feeling fuller sooner, rather than the role of lipolysis and insulin control.
Also in 2003, Belinda Linden, head of medical information at the British Heart Foundation made a statement on the Atkin’s diet, based on their research: “Previous studies have shown that weight loss from the Atkins Diet may involve muscle loss rather than body fat.
Another potential problem is that it is so far unclear from studies whether weight loss is sustained over a longer period than six months. One of the studies shows no significant difference at 12 months.
With minimal fruit and vegetables included in the diet, it holds serious implications for coronary heart disease and cancer.
Diets need to be varied to protect against these conditions – and this one isn’t. This diet requires further long term and larger studies before its effectiveness can be confirmed.”
Some controversial news came out in 2003, shortly after of Dr. Atkins’ death in April. A nutritionist condemned the Atkins Diet, saying there was not a “shred of evidence” to suggest that it worked.
However, it emerged that the nutritionist, Susan Jebb, who was the head of nutrition and health research at the Medical Research Council (MRC), had been commissioned by Fab, the organization which is recognized as the lobbying arm of the National Association of British and Irish Millers.
The MRC was to be paid GBP10,000 by Fab to fund the research, which mostly involved reviewing scientific papers on low and high carb diets.
In May 2004, the Annals of Internal Medicine, (vol 140, p778) reported on research comparing followers of the Atkins Diet with those on a low fat diet. This was the longest study to date – a year long.
Blood analysis showed that Atkins dieters had lower levels of triglycerides, potentially harmful blood fats which can trigger heart disease. Concentrations of beneficial high density cholesterols (HDLs) were also greater in the Atkins group. Also, these favorable changes remained until the end of the study, suggesting that there might be lasting benefits.
In another six month study, this time on 120 overweight patients at the Duke University Medical Center in Durham, North Carolina, more positive results were shown for Atkins. The low-carbohydrate dieters lost an average of 12 kilos, twice that lost by those on a low-fat regime (Annals of Internal Medicine, vol 140, p769). And the pattern of blood fats and sugars mirrored that in the first study.
Belgian study on Atkins
In 2005 a Belgian study indicated that the Atkins’ diet was effective, but not as a result of lipolysis, but just because when on the Atkins Diet people just eat less.
The theory put forward was that putting on weight following a high-carb meal is how our hunter-gather bodies are programmed to respond. Before humans developed agriculture, humans relied on hunting and gathering.
Large quantities of carbs would appear briefly each year just before a winter famine. To survive human would have to eat as much as possible before the food rotted, or someone else ate it.
For the rest of the year, high-quality carbohydrate was scarce and leafy plants, ants and meat formed that main part of the diet.
The Atkins approach essential replicates the winter famine scenario, where appetite is reduced, and less food consumed. However, the results of the research did still show that it was effective at losing weight.
In March 2006 came some worrying news for the Atkins corner. A 40-year-old obese woman developed ketoacidosis, a potentially deadly blood disorder, after one month on the Induction phase of Atkins.
However, some scientists did point out that vomiting, from a clinical problem which is not triggered by diet, would have led to the ketoacidosis. So the low-carb diet may not have been to blame after all.
Sydney Atkins Study
In July 2006, some of the most important research was carried out. A study showed that a diet of low GI foods reduces body fat while also reducing levels of “bad” cholesterol, that contribute to the risk of heart attack and stroke.
189 overweight and obese adults were studied at the University of Sydney, Australia. The Atkins approach emphases that carbs should come from low GI sources, such as leafy green vegetables, and not high GI sources, such as potatoes and carrots.
In March 2007, Stanford University in California studied a group of female dieters, to compare the effects of four different diets. Subjects of the study had a choice of diet to follow:
- The Atkins Diet Approach
- The Zone Diet, which cuts carbs less severely than Atkins
- LEARN, a low-fat, high-carb diet based on US government guidelines
- Ornish, a more extreme low-fat plan.
Results were published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (vol 297, p 969) and showed that the Atkins dieters had lost 4.7 kilograms on average, which was significantly more than the Zone group, but only marginally more than the Ornish and LEARN.
So, the Atkins diet in this study was the best, but only by a small margin. However, Dr. Atkins had documented that women do find this approach more difficult due to hormonal responses to contraceptive medicine.
In 2007, research started to reveal that the Atkins’ diet may help sufferers of epilepsy – although results are still not conclusive yet. Research was reported in the journal Epilepsia (Volume 48 Issue 1 Page 182-186, January 2007)
There is more evidence and research supporting the Atkins diet revolution. There have been cases in the press of people developing heart problems after being on Atkins for a year.
Dr. Atkins himself warned pregnant women not to go on a low-carb diet. However, a majority of research still supports the view that the critics of Atkins mostly base their arguments on a few isolated cases, whereas the supporters of Atkins carry out scientific trials and studies, which are published in the scientific and medical press.
So far, there has been no support of the view that an Atkins’ diet is bad for your health in the scientific press. Therefore, we conclude, that following the Atkins’ Diet Revolution is good for your health.
Dr. Atkins actually pointed out in his book, that the risks associated with being obese are generally greater than the risk of consuming a diet high in fat.
If you are obese, you are more likely to suffer diabetes, heart disease and stroke, and the Atkins’ diet is an effective method of losing weight, and kick-starting a healthier way of life, as well as reducing bad cholesterol and triglycerides.