Atkins, Fat, and Heart Disease

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Paul pointed out “The perils of the Atkins diet,” from Texas A&M’s The Battalion which discusses how Atkins isn’t healthy in the long-term and isn’t really all that effective as a weight-loss diet, either. One point the writer makes that’s kind of unique, though it’s probably not news to long-time vegetarians, is that the Atkins diet is more expensive than low-fat, reduced-meat diets. Add this to the years of research that goes against the Atkins hi-fat, hi-protein philosophy and the recent study of more than 90,000 women that links animal fats to breast cancer, and you have pretty much every reason in the world not to follow Atkins. Erik Marcus over at Vegan.com also made a good point a while back when he referred to the Atkins diet as a nightmare for the animals.

Someone said to me the other day, “I want to lose some weight… how can I cut out carbs from my diet?” I said, “Well, first of all, you don’t want to cut carbs from your diet. You want to replace simple carbs with complex carbs… whole wheat bread instead of white, whole wheat or mixed pasta instead of regular pasta, high-fiber cereals, etc. Then you want to cut back on saturated fat and trans fat… avoid the snacks with partially hydrogenated oils… replace your cooking oils with olive oil, canola oil, and high oleic safflower oil (for high-temperature frying)…” And then I realized I was starting to sound like my mom. :)

I think people just have this idea that they want to lose as much weight as they can, quickly, and with little effort. Eat more meat? Sure! Everybody loves their steak, why not eat more of it and lose weight! Really, who needs fiber, anyway? What we need to be thinking is, “How can I be healthier?” Weight loss doesn’t necessarily map one-to-one with health… after all, anorexia can help you shed those pounds fast, but it’s not exactly helping you get your nutrients.

25 Responses to “Atkins, Fat, and Heart Disease”

  1. Stephen

    Interesting points about Atkins.

    I am the only human being I know to have gained weight on Atkins. No matter how much I ate, not matter how many eggs, steaks and other protein sources I ate, I was still hungry. One day I had about 5 steaks, and was still starving.

    And I gained weight.

  2. Ryan

    Of the people I know that have been on Atkins, they’ve either gained a little weight or stayed even… I can’t think of any that have lost weight. Interesting.

  3. Paul

    Well, a friend of a friend has dropped a LOT of weight on Atkins.

    But good call on the question and focus shifting over to health versus weight loss – funny, that’s what I think, too. You’re a smart fellow, Ryan.

  4. JeanNINE

    Yep, that Ryan IS a smart fellow! :-D And don’t worry, you don’t sounds like ANYONE’S mother, you just sound like a guy who knows what he’s talking about. ;o)

    Personally, the Atkins diet “stopped me up,” if you know what I mean. I prolly would have had colon cancer within a year on that horrible diet.

    People THINK that following these weird diets simplifies things for them, but it really just complicates it.

  5. Lee

    I’ve been a reader for a while now and just had to take this opportunity to say, “Right on!!” I also do not believe you sound like a mother, but someone who knows their stuff. I am not a vegetarian (although my husband says I’m well on my way) but I adore (and agree with) your thoughts and opinions and the way you present your ideas and opinions. Thank you.

  6. Jo

    I completely agree. If Dr Atkin’s religiously followed his own diet – why did he have a heart attack? Because of too much saturated fat? Too much strain on the organs? Avoiding/hugely reducing carbohydrates is completely unnatural… and most problems of disease and obesity are caused by unnatural eating – too much processed food, saturated fat etc. Healthy weight comes from eating a wide variety of natural foods from all the food groups and combining it with exercise. If people learned about nutrition, they wouldn’t feel tempted to find a get slim quick that serves as a solution in the short term, causing unecessary health risks and weight gain once the diet has stopped. People should buy a nutrition book – not a diet book!

  7. Tricia

    I have been on atkins for two weeks. I have gained 1 pound. I power walk 4 days a week. I feel bloated and uncomfortable at night. I am hot and sweating too. I don’t have a galbladder and I think the fat in Atkins is just too hard for me to digest. Thanks for your website. I am done with atkins.

  8. Chris

    I am a 30 year old, adult-onset/Type 2 diabetic, diagnosed in December of 2000. My blood glucose levels ran at about 170 to 220 regularly, and I weighed 240 lbs. My cholesterol and triglyceride levels were embarrassingly high. I was taking 1000mg of Glucophage each day.

    On 8/1/03, I started the Atkins plan. After 1 week, my glucose levels stabilized in a range arouund 95-105 (normal is 90 – 120). Now after 4 weeks, my bad cholesterol has dropped through the floor, the good cholesterol has raised, and my triglycerides are returning to normal. I have halved my medication to 500 mg each day. I have lost 12 lbs so far (in 26 days).

    I have more energy than ever before. I wake up easier in the morning and fall to sleep faster at night (plus I sleep all night).

    The article referenced above does have some flaws that were pointed out in comments posted under the story on The Battilion site. I will reprint them here:

    Not much content to Midhat Farooqi’s article or its conclusions. The writer’s approach is limited principally to minimizing statistical results rather than reporting the more significant medical findings concerning cholesterols, triglycerides, and blood pressure. The writer also neglects any reporting of Dr. Atkins’ view of carbohydrates and their effect on body fat production. Although an assertion is made concerning a higher cost, no support is offered. Why is the writer disappointed at high book sales of the diet? The inference that Dr. Atkins’ death is driving what only amounts to a “fad” in dieting not justified by medical statistics, even if true, certainly, does not call for the writer’s conclusion: “As it turns out, this is not the way to eat, now or ever.” That this study is the total of medical research on Atkins dieting and therefore it’s only justification is also an impression left by the writer’s article. The writer might benefit (and readers as well)by more effort reviewing the substantial information that has been forthcoming since January 2002 on Atkins dieting from independent evaluations and reports. In sum, the writer might be said to have made a bunch of big fat conclusions without much to “lean” on. A little more reporting effort is called for before one suggests the diet is a “Peril”.

    Kyle Willis
    Financial Executive
    Houston

  9. Scott Duffy

    I, too, have had significant success on Atkins. I find I eat less food overall, not more. I don’t snack — I’m not hungry in the middle of the afternoon or at night. I drink more water, and I take daily multi-vitamins. In general, my health has improved drastically.

    Here’s a link to the medical research in support of low-carb eating:
    http://www.lowcarbresearch.org/lcr/results.asp?Command=WhatsNew

    I recommend all those considering going on this diet, or even those who have a built-in bias against it, to read the scientific facts before passing judgement.

    Low-carb eating is NOT no-carb eating. I eat whole wheat bread. I get lots of fiber. And like I said, I EAT LESS. That’s the big secret with the Atkins plan. It’s NOT a dozen eggs for breakfast and steaks for lunch! I never used to eat vegetables, and now I eat them with every meal. Salad instead of fries. That’s a good thing, right?

    Scott Duffy

  10. paul

    Dont know if i should try it or not……..but I want to lose 20 pounds……….I work outt, and took supplements, and they added weight, muscle and fat…………..whats up?

  11. Barb

    Hmmmm. Atkins seems “right” to me, but only for part of the year! If you think about what non-carniverous animals are able to eat during the calendar year, it all seems to make sense. Roots and grasses in spring, add fruits, berries, veggies in summer, same in early fall, then – OOPS! – that stuff’s all gone and you gotta live off your body fat! You make it through the season when plants are dorment (may be winter in some climates or summer in others) by living off your own fat stores. When the plants return, your body better be able to beef it up quickly to cover the next seasonal vegetable “drought”.

    In our society there is no longer a reason to pack on the fat in anticipation of the drought! We eat for pleasure, not for need! Therefore it seems appropriate, perhaps even necessary, to allow your body to cycle throught the processes it would have had to follow naturally – if not for a lifetime of nutrition, for an occasional cleansing/purging of fat that is not consumed during the seasons where food is not plenty.

    I don’t think the Atkins diet was DESIGNED to meet lifetime nutritional goals – it’s designed to teach you what to eat to lose FAT, and bring you back to healthy nutrition.

    I think BOTH approaches are right.

  12. geoff

    I dropped 5kgs over 2 weeks during the induction phase. I ate well, noticed I never got food cravings, felt terrible for the first 2 days until I went into ketosis, then felt ok, but not hugely energetic. It definitely worked (for me) and I dropped predominently fat and not muscle (measured with weight drop, % bodyfat, and strength stayed roughly the same at the gym). I measured my weight 1 week after I began eating carbs again to make sure I was as accurate as I could be.

  13. passin through

    Just passing through and I found this article that may be of some interest.

    http://www.reuters.com/newsArticle.jhtml?type=topNews&storyID=4221750

  14. Beccy

    Hi,

    I have been looking for info on people that have gained weight on Atkins.

    When I initially did Atkins about 2 years ago, after eating a A LOT of refined carbs and I did lose about a stone in weight. After about a year though I started to notice a weight gain, and I was addicted to laxatives (not good at all). I had to use them or I would never have gone to the toilet, psyllium husks DID NOT work for me.

    I tried it again last week and have gained (you will not believe this) 5lbs….!!! I was livid! I followed the diet to the letter, and hardly had any carbs at all, I also wrote down everything I ate to check this……..

    So when once it did initially work for me, having gone to eating complex carbs, it did not have the same effect when I went back to on it….

    So I think for mem it worked when my diet beforehand was very poor….but when I went back to it after eating a low GI Diet, then it didn’t work…..I am so upset about the weight gain…..

    I also was ‘stopped up’ if you know what I mean and I had a lot of pain in the lower part of my stomach all the time…..it was like everything was blocked and it was causing serious problems…

    Anyway I went back to porridge this morning…mmmmmmm THANK GOD!! :-)

    Beccy

  15. vegandfruitme

    I remember gaining weight on Atkins too. The only way I lost weight is to go completely low fat all the way. I ate sugar, candy, dessert, bread, but very very little fat. When I did have fat, it was a Tbsp of olive oil.

  16. fruitNVeggieMe

    I actually gained weight back when I did the Atkins diet years ago.

  17. Graham

    It just goes to show that there is not one diet that is suitable for everyone. Atkins happens to have been very effective for me, and completely stopped the 12 years I spent getting drugs for heartburn.

    It is a however a tad annoying reading some of the prejudiced untruths againt Atkins. I eat plenty of “pure” foods including nutrient-dense carbos. A bonus was the reduction of appetite whilst eating satisfying quantities. Also – Dr Atkins did not die of a heart attack from a high-fat diet. He died from injuries of a fall – another example of people peddling prejudiced waffle.

  18. Adrienne

    I am SO glad I’m not alone in regards to not losing and actually gaining a little on atkins. My husband swears by the low carb diet, and I just feel like pure hell…diarrea, cramps, GAS GAS GAS. I am actually eatling less, don’t feel hungry or snack much, and I have been completely honestly truthfully following the diet, counting my carbs, and actually consuming less than the suggested number of carbs. I am borderline type 2 diabetic, female, 28 years old.

    I was a vegetarian for 6 years, and a vegan for three of those years. I think it’s time to try “low carb” with a few adjustments. NO MORE RED MEAT, I don’t like it. I’m going to try to eat mostly vegetables, with a measured/monitored amount of beans/legumes, and when I do intake meat, it will be chicken and fish (mostly fish), in moderate amounts. I’ve already done away with milk and cheese, I never liked those much anyway.

  19. Susie

    Well, anyone who as actually DONE the research first knows that Atkins isn’t about piling 2 rashers of bacon and half a dozen eggs on your plate, followed by several steaks for dinner. They encourage you to start your diet, with yes, higher protein. It is because eating at least 6 grams of protein per meal curbs your appetite, but along with that HAS to be the nutrient packed veggies such as fresh spinach, asparagus, spring mix salad greens, and other yummy veggies. You HAVE to take a multi vitamin. You HAVE to take a fiber supplement. You HAVE to take your essential oils. It is absolutely necessary for you to take your L-Carnitine to help transport that fat to the necessary places. There is no real reason to be “stopped up” while on Atkins. Those of you who have tried Atkins and not been successful have probably started a form of the diet based on what you heard about it, and that can be a very dangerous thing. And if you’re insistent on being vegan, or vegetarian, the Nutritional approach does have a plan mapped out for you to Atkins and still adhere to your vegan/vegetarian status. Even if I never lost weight on Atkins, I can say I feel a HELL of a lot better and have FAR more energy than if I switched back to my complex carb low-fat diet. You might loose the weight, but it does not regulate blood sugar, and does not keep you from the risk of Type II Diabetes. And it certainly does not give you the energy boost you need to keep you active throughout the day. Guys, just do a little research. Just as the other “researchers” you are trusting to knock the diet…those folks at Atkins have done extensive research over the past 20-30 years as well. You think they might know what they are talking about, too. I can give you one thing. Atkins is NOT for everyone, and you just need to know when it is and isn’t for you.

  20. Karl

    Atkins didn’t die of a heart attack: he slipped on some ice and hit his head – died of a concussion.

    Atkins works if you really follow it. If you are having lots of gas – it is because you are eating hidden carbs – carbs cause gas. You really have to read the lables and really have to count the carbs; then it works well.

  21. Vance

    Atkins’ heart problems are well documented – the ME even wrote of his history of heart attacks (‘myocardial infarction”) on his death report. The story that he “slipped on the ice” is somewhat suspect, to put it mildly. Mayor Bloomberg, who dined with Atkins and was amazed how fat the diet doctor was, spoke for millions when he said into an open mic, “I don’t believe that bull, that he dropped dead after slipping on the sidewalk… yeah, right.”

    The diet itself has been thoroughly discredited as anything but a temporary-weight-loss gimmick with long-term liabilities, a loser both scientifically and in the marketplace, where the diet’s enormous success led the company to file for bankruptcy. Atkins Exposed has all the facts, helpfully cross-referenced and impeccably sourced.

  22. Gary

    Graham: I don’t see where anyone here said Atkins died of a heart attack, just that he had one. He did weigh over 250 when he died though – not exactly a ringing endorsement of his diet.

    Susie: A vegan diet not only controls blood sugar, it also has been shown to reverse diabetes. Read Dr. Neal Barnard’s book, which explains the remarkable results of clinical studies of vegan diets for diabetes patients, and recent research showing how saturated fat may be a cause of diabetes because it clogs cells and prevents insulin from doing its job.

  23. Gary

    (second half of comment – got cut off, probably user error…)

    Barb: I don’t think the body needs periods where it gets almost no vegetables, to simultate winters. What about people in equatorial regions?

    Here’s the brief case for veganism:

    – We don’t need animal products, as evidenced by the large numbers of healthy vegans

    – Animals want to live

    – Virtually all animal products – at least in the Western world – involve multiple and often severe cruelties, from breeding to transport to slaughterhouse.

    – It is good to practice the golden rule as widely as possible. It is wrong to engage in avoidable harm or exploitation.

    – Vegan diets tend to be very environmentally-friendly.

    I’m not trying to knock everyone who tries Atkins. My brother was on it for a while. I realize losing weight can be challenging. Some of the Atkins enthusiasts have incorporated new foods into their diets. That willingness to try new foods will serve you well when you move to a vegan diet: for every animal product you give up, there are many times more plant-based products available.

    Some of the Atkins defenders responded to complaints from people who tried Atkins by pointing our that it has to be done right. I would say the same about vegan diets, in response to those who said they tried it but had problems or no luck. Read http://www.veganhealth.org and perhaps http://www.veganbodybuilding.com for an intro to vegan health.

  24. Sylvia

    Atkins was overweight when he died because he went into a coma and was “fed” IV dextrose (sugar water) for weeks after he slipped and damaged his skull. I’ve been on Atkins for 6 months and I’ve lost LOTS of weight. I feel amazing and I have a tiny appetite, lots of energy and hope for the first time in years. Atkins is really working for me.

  25. sarah

    I think it’s dangerous to automatically equate weight loss with improved health–losing weight doesn’t mean arteries can’t be clogged.

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