The Truth About High-Protein Diets

Perhaps no other diet has generated as much discussion and controversy as the one created by Robert C. Atkins, M.D., more than 30 years ago. It strictly limits carbohydrates (including fruits and vegetables) and emphasizes protein and fats, including such high-fat, high-calorie foods as bacon, hamburgers, and sausage. (Phase 1 of the diet calls for 64 percent of calories from fat—and 42 grams of saturated fat.) It’s based on the notion that by restricting carbohydrates, you induce the body to enter a state called ketosis, which forces it to burn fat as fuel.

But the Atkins diet, which hasn’t been rigorously studied, ignores one basic nutritional fact nearly every researcher in the field agrees on: Eating saturated fat increases your risk of coronary heart disease (CHD) and generally increases cholesterol. At least 14 different studies support this finding, while an analysis of six clinical trials involving 6,356 participants found that decreasing saturated fat cut blood cholesterol levels and reduced CHD 24 percent.

Most of the studies that have been done on the Atkins diet showed some disturbing results. In one study 100 people were assigned to either a moderate fat (30 percent of calories) eating plan with no calorie restriction, a reduced-calorie diet with either 15 percent or 30 percent of calories from fat, or the Atkins diet, Only those on the Atkins diet had an increase in LDL cholesterol (6 percent), an increase in triglycerides (5.5 percent), a slight decrease in HDL, and increases in homocysteine (which damages artery walls) and fibrinogen (which contributes to blood clotting).

Not all the news on the Atkins diet has been negative, however. A shortterm (six month) study reported at the American Heart Association meeting in 2002 found those on the diet lost weight, reduced their LDL, and increased their HDL. What gives? The LDL reduction was likely the result of weight loss due to calorie restriction, and the HDL increase may have been due to fish-oil supplementation.

Most important, as noted throughout this book, no single measure sums up health. Cancer, cholera, and AIDS can lower weight and cholesterol, too; it doesn’t mean they’re good for you. The Live /t Down eating strategy, on the other hand, /s good for you, providing a pattern of eating associated with lifelong health, weight control, reduced cancer risk, reduced CHD risk, and a host of other benefits.

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