Another Atkins Diet Study: What Are We to Think?

Latest research bolsters Atkins, but common sense choices may be more important

ByABC News
March 6, 2007, 5:49 PM

March 7, 2007 — -- A study in the Journal of the American Medical Association adds more information to the long-running debate about what kind of diet is best for weight loss.

Several recent studies suggest that overweight people might have more success with weight loss when they follow a diet lower in carbohydrates (and higher in fat and protein) than by following the standard guidelines for a lower fat, higher carbohydrate diet.

These findings have surprised and concerned many nutritional experts. Critics have correctly pointed out that these studies didn't involve enough people and were too short in duration to draw strong conclusions or to change standard recommendations.

This new study followed patients for one year -- longer than many of the previous studies.

Approximately 300 overweight or obese women were put on one of four diets: the Atkins diet -- very low in carbohydrates; the Zone diet -- moderately low in carbohydrates; a diet based on current national guidelines for a moderately low fat, high carbohydrate plan; and the very low fat Ornish diet.

At the end of one year, those following the Atkins diet lost the most weight, approximately 10 pounds.

Those on the other plans lost on average 3.5 to six pounds.

The researchers also measured other factors that are known to affect heart disease risk, including blood pressure, levels of cholesterol and blood fats known as triglycerides.

Of all the plans, the Atkins diet had the most favorable effects on the good cholesterol, triglycerides and blood pressure. Levels of bad cholesterol did not differ significantly among the groups during most of the study.

While this study appears to have been well conducted, like all research, it needs to be interpreted with care.

The research involved only women between the ages of 25 and 50. It did not include men, children or seniors. That may make a difference.

The concern about the longer term still remains: What happens as people drift off their specific diet? While those following Atkins had indeed lost more weight, at the end of one year, the gap between the diets was narrowing.