Atkins Diet, Sans Meat, Shows Promise

In a small study, a vegetarian version of the diet excels. Will Americans bite?

ByABC News
June 8, 2009, 2:35 PM

June 9, 2009— -- What's Atkins without the meat?

It could be the key to a healthy low-carb diet -- and a healthier planet -- according to a new study released Monday.

The study was a small one; it looked at a mere 44 people who adhered to either a low-carb, vegetarian "Eco-Atkins" diet or a low-fat vegetarian diet. Both of these diets restricted caloric intake -- and both led to an average loss of around eight or nine pounds over the four-week study period.

But those who subscribed to the "Eco-Atkins" diet both reduced their levels of "bad" LDL cholesterol and improved their blood pressure, according to the study published in the June 8 Archives of Internal Medicine.

Considering the research that has pitted diet against diet in recent years, the finding that dieters can improve their health by cutting out meat and adding more vegetables -- all while keeping refined carbohydrates to a minimum -- is not the most controversial point ever to emerge from a diet study.

"I don't think that it does anything that overturns the apple cart, so to speak," said lead study author Dr. David Jenkins of the University of Toronto in Canada. "It's what you would have expected due to the data emerging in the literature."

But the question as to whether this type of low-carb diet can accurately be referred to as an Atkins diet of any kind -- considering Atkins' meat-heavy stereotype -- is a far more controversial proposition for some.

"To call this a vegetarian Atkins diet is, to paraphrase, like putting lipstick on a pork rind," said Dean Ornish, founder and president of the non-profit Preventive Medicine Research Institute in Sausalito, Calif. "It's a little hard for me to understand why people are going out of their way to make an Atkins diet something that it isn't."

He said the diet is somewhat similar to a version of his own Ornish diet, with the primary difference being a higher level of vegetable fat than his regimen, which he has advocated for the past 30 years.

"People so badly want to believe that Atkins is good for them that they stretch things beyond credibility," Ornish said. "What it's going to be is confusing to people, and that's why I have a problem with it."