Is Atkins the Healthiest Choice for Weight Loss?

"The public may not realize that keeping weight off for one year is no indication of permanence," says Carla Wolper of the Obesity Research Center at St. Luke's Hospital in New York City.

"It may be that more than two years of weight stability are required before one can feel safe with weight loss achieved."

And some say the shortcomings of the research reach beyond simple weight loss. In particular, there's a belief that the study downplays the wide spectrum of factors that contribute to heart health.

"Numbers don't lie, but they don't tell the whole story -- by a mile," says Jackie Newgent, instructor at the Institute of Culinary Education in New York City. "There are more than just a couple numbers that determine your overall health. And as cholesterol numbers and blood pressure levels improve, it doesn't mean other heart-health indicators improve."

Since heart concerns have remained at the center of the debate over low-carb diets since their inception, the study may do little to silence critics with these concerns.

A Call for Common Sense

In recent years, the Atkins diet has also found itself surrounded by a lean, mean pack of other diet regimens, most with their own best-selling books.

Michael Roizen and Mehmet Oz's "You: On a Diet," one of the more recent wunderkinds of the growing diet genre, is now enjoying its 17th week on The New York Times best-seller list.

Other diets, low-carb and otherwise, likewise flood bookstore shelves -- a phenomenon that threatens to lead to diet-reader fatigue as the choices become ever more diverse and, in many cases, complex.

So, what's a dieter to do?

In short, losing weight and keeping it off may be more a function of adopting an overall healthier lifestyle -- and less about cutting whole classes of foods out of your diet.

"This is the message of this article -- focus on lifestyle and environmental factors and don't worry about the macronutrient composition of the diet, particularly if you can achieve the NHLBI guidelines of a 5 to 10 percent weight loss," says Dr. George Blackburn, chair in nutrition medicine at Harvard Medical School. "I think that was my message for the past 20 years."

"A healthy diet is the same as it ever was," Katz says. "Focus on health, and the long term, and your weight will take care of itself."

"It's not about demonizing whole food groups," Ayoob says. "It's about how much and how often, and learning to strike a balance between what we know we need, and what we don't want to live without."

And for diet book authors on both sides of the debate, an armistice in the "diet wars" would be a positive outcome by any measure.

"I'm tired of these diet wars," Ornish says. "It's not low-fat versus low-carb. It's both. An optimal diet is low in total fat and low in refined carbohydrates, emphasizing whole foods such as fruits, vegetables and whole grains."

"The future needs to be about getting away from this 'beauty pageant' mentality of what diet is best," Trager says. "It needs to be about incorporating the best practices of each approach to make lifestyle changes more achievable and improve adherence."

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