Does the Atkins Diet Work?

For example, Harvard University is currently finishing up a study comparing an ultra-low carb diet with the American Heart Association's low-fat diet. And, at Joslin Diabetes Center in Boston, obesity expert Dr. Terry Maratos-Flier says she has been recommending a "modified Atkins" that focuses on fish and chicken instead of beef and pork.

Even though the study found low-carbohydrate, high-protein eaters regain the weight at one year, "the low-carb group still weighs about five pounds less than the conventional diet group, suggesting that some people in that group may be maintaining weight better," Maratos-Flier said.

And other experts seem to agree. "These two randomized, controlled studies add to the recently gathering evidence that low-carb diets may be an important weight control option for many obese, or severely obese patients," explains Dr. Howard Eisenson, the director of the Duke University Diet and Fitness Center.

The Duke Center has been using low-fat diets since 1969. But, says Eisenson, "What we have been doing, for so long, does not provide enough lasting improvement, for enough of our patients, for us to be satisfied." So, because he believes it is "time to open our minds to the possible benefits of a low carbohydrate diet," Eisenson says Duke plans to introduce a new carbohydrate diet option to patients this summer.

There's More to Weight Loss than Diet

On the flip side, argue critics like Dr. James W. Anderson, professor of medicine and clinical nutrition at the University of Kentucky, "The high fat diet does promote weight loss but reinforces unhealthy but popular eating styles."

These unhealthy eating styles, experts say, could cause potential health problems if maintained beyond a year. Research has shown consuming high levels of saturated fat, as many Atkins dieters do, may have adverse health consequences.

Adds Anderson, who discourages his patients from the Atkins diet, "Using the Atkins guidelines long-term will raise cholesterol by 28 percent, whereas a low-fat diet will lower cholesterol by 20 percent."

Ultimately, add Bonow and Eckel: "The recipe for effective weight loss is a combination of motivation, physical activity, and calorie restriction. Until further evidence is available, physicians should continue to recommend a healthy lifestyle that includes regular physical activity and a balanced diet."

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