Low Carb Diets Vindicated, Once Again

Last modified on March 6th, 2007

If you would have mentioned that you were trying to lose weight by a reducing your carbohydrate intake a few years ago, people would have dismissed you as crazy and told you that you were only hurting your body. However, that all changed sometime around 2003 when a prestigious medical school released a peer-reviewed study that basically showed Low Carbohyrate diets not only help people lose more weight, but also result in better blood-lipid profiles than their low-fat counterparts.

Since then, I’ve read countless studies on PubMed that basically indicate the same thing. However,
another fairly major study just came out that is of interest. Here are the key points:

A study of four popular diets found that women put on the one with the least carbohydrates — the Atkins plan — lost at least twice as much weight as those on the others, researchers said on Tuesday.

Women assigned to the Atkins group lost an average of 10.4 pounds (4.7 kgs) compared to 5.7 pounds (2.5 kgs) for LEARN, 4.8 pounds (2.1 kgs) for Ornish and 3.5 pounds (1.6 kgs) for Zone, the study said.

The women on the Atkins diet also had the most improvements in terms of cholesterol and blood pressure, added the study published in this week’s
Journal of the American Medical Association.

The authors said some have worried that diets low in carbohydrates but high in total and saturated fat would cause cholesterol problems and increase the risk of heart disease.

“These concerns have not been substantiated in recent weight-loss diet trials,” including the new research, the authors said.

Harvard Medical school, which has one of the most famous departments or nutrition, updated it’s food guide years ago, squarely placing refined carbohydrates at the top of the food pyramid (that is, the ones you should eat the least of). I’m still amazed at how many nutrionists or “doctors” firmly place their nutrition beliefs in a very low fat diet, something which for many people which any type of insulin resistance is practically lethal. I’m glad to see more evidence coming out so that manufacturers of garbage food might start putting some nutrition back into their products.

7 responses to “Low Carb Diets Vindicated, Once Again”

  1. Beth says:

    I’m going to reserve my judgement on this study until I’ve read the actual journal article itself (news reports are often quite bad at reporting on these things… for example, those studies back in 2003 weren’t quite as rigorous as I would have liked… for example, in one study they didn’t even assess what the study subjects actually ate, they just gave them information on what the Atkins diet was and said “go to it!”, so we don’t know that they actually followed the Atkins diet. And in the other study, they did track what the subject ate and the Atkins group *didn’t* follow the Atkins diet (they ate significantly more carbs than the Atkins diet allows) and the “low-fat” control group *didn’t* eat the low fat diet they were prescribed (which wasn’t actually a *low* fat diet… if memory serves me, they were prescribed about a 30% Calories from fat diet, which isn’t that low, and they still ate more than that)). So I’m really not sure how they got away with concluding anything about the Atkins diet vs. their control diet, as the subjects weren’t really following the Atkins diet and the control group wasn’t following the control diet.

    That said, there is no doubt that *refined* carbs are not good for you! Hear hear to that!

    And your average “doctor” (by which I mean, medical doctors) receive little to no nutrition training, so it is always irritating to me when they start advising on nutritional issues.

    Wow, that was quite the rant, wasn’t it?

  2. Duane says:

    Well, even in your example, it sounds like it was essentually a low-carb diet vs a non low-carb diet, so in that case, the study is basically concluding you lose more weight by reducing carbs (which is what the numbers reported), which is the point I am trying to make. You can call it Atkin’s or not call it Atkin’s, the main difference being that Atkin’s is primarily a ketogenic diet whereas a typical low-carb diet probably isn’t.

    There’s a very real medical condition that exists primarily in our lifetime called “Metabolic Syndrome” or “Syndrome X”. It basically comes about because the body becomes resistant to insulin, and in turn, requires far more insulin than is usually required. Since insulin negates glucagen (which breaks down fat), it becomes extremely hard for insulin resistant people to lose weight. Remember a long time ago when people used to describe type II diabetes as “adult-onset”? They don’t do that anymore because in the last few decades it has started to inflict kids as well, and the current theory is that it’s primarily a result of the processed foods and high-carb/low-fat diet most people eat that places way too much stress on the pancreas and the body’s ability to produce insulin. Most people forget that the main component of fat is something called a triglyceride (which, by definition, means three sugar molecules).

    I subscribed to the whole low-fat thing when I was about 14 years old. Over the years I slowly kept gaining weight, even though I was hardly eating compared to my friends. At 26 years old I found myself rather plump despite eating around 1500 calories a day and hitting the gym four times a week for an hour. In almost desperation, I tried a low-carb diet. Five months later I was down 50 lbs and taken off of high blood pressure medication. So, I’m obviously a believer (Michael Moore has a similar story) in the whole low-carb movement. That being said, I recommend everyone check out PubMed.com and browse through the medical literature themselves.

    The whole low-fat campaign was actually a huge leap of faith years ago mainly promoted by one study (which was pretty shoddy) that showed a very small linkage between saturated fats and coronary artery disease. And in one large nationwide experiment, thus begin the low-fat movement.

    Most of these studies are very hard to perform because most people don’t eat in controlled enviroments, but I get your point.

  3. hesty says:

    I actually watched a program on National Geographic Channel a few weeks ago when they dig into why Atkins diet works. In the end, the conclusion is that protein makes people full, and people on Atkins diet actually eat less (calorie wise) even when allowed to eat as much as possible. Not sure if this has been verified or peer reviewed elsewhere.

  4. Duane says:

    I’m not sure, but I was eating a ton on my low-carb diet, and I lost even more. But I’d be the first to admin that near the end I probably wasn’t eating as much as I used to, mainly because I was sort of sick of the food options…

  5. It might work but it does not scale globally. I always see atkins as a gluttony diet 🙂

  6. Joanna says:

    I’d like to add my 2 cents……….In these studies have they tracked these people once they have lost the weight they wanted to?

    This is a topic that is near and dear to my heart since I have lost over 100 pounds in just under 2 years and I have seen people who have dropped weight rapidly not being able to keep it off because they haven’t taught themselves a healthy way of eating and changed their lifestyle to make sure that they keep the weight off. These low-carb diets may work while people are following it but what happens to them when they get tired of the food options?

  7. Duane says:

    Hey Joanna, I agree with what you are saying, and I admit that eating low-carb is hard in the long term (although, this may be partly to do with the lack of low-carb options in everyday life). However, this is hardly a problem limited to low-carb diets — almost all of the people who diet (any diet) gain it back, so it really needs to be a lifestyle change, not a temporary fix.

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