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What do you think of the Atkins diet ?

If you stick to the low-carbohydrate Atkins diet it will probably work in the short term - but it is neither the healthiest nor the most effective way to lose weight. The idea behind it is that by eating very few carbohydrates and lots of protein, mainly meat and fish, your blood sugar is stabilised and your body is forced to burn fat. Stabilising your blood sugar is critical for weight loss because this, more than anything, halts food cravings - but the ban on fruit and the extremely high protein intake are another story.

The problem with these rules is twofold. First, although this is refuted in the book, some researches have shown that high-protein diets can cause a loss in bone mass. Excessive protein creates an acidic environment in the whole body, and triggers an extraction of calcium from the bones to neutralise it, potentially leading to bone-density problems such as osteoporosis in the future. This was confirmed in a major article in New Scientist (15 December 2001, page 42).

Secondly, most people are desperately short in B vitamins and other nutrients - hence the big emphasis on eating five servings of fruit and vegetables a day. To compensate for this lack in his diet, Dr Atkins does recommend supplements. They are essential for anyone on a weight-loss diet, not least because the level of the amino acid homocysteine, which is a marker for heart disease, goes up when people on such diets fail to supplement B vitamins, which most do. And while the low-carbohydrates rule is nice and linear, the fact is that slow-releasing carbohydrates, such as oats or apples, don't cause big increases in blood sugar. The Atkins diet is certainly not a 'diet for life', so in the long term it isn't the best way to lose weight and maintain control.

Instead, eat a well-balanced, largely organic diet with a big emphasis on fresh fruit and vegetables and no high-fat meat, cheese and fried food - a diet in which high-quaity protein and carbohydrates such as brown rice and rye bread both have a place, such as Fatburner Diet. But, which approach works better for losing weight ?

Thanks to trials published in top medical journals we can make a comparison. To compare 'like with like' the studies featured here all involved people given the diets to follow, who say they follow them 'as best they can'.

So let's first look at Atkins-type diets versus conventional low-calorie, low-fat diets. Two trials carried out at the University of Pennsylvania Medical Center (Samaha and Foster et al.) showed that after six months, those on the Atkins or an Atkins-type diet had lost between 10 pounds and 12.7 pounds, versus 4 pounds to 4.5 pounds on a conventional low fat diet.

So over a six-month period, these studies shows that : 

  • Atkins dieters tend to lose, on average, 11.35 pounds after SIX months 
  • Conventional, low fat dieters tend to lose, on average, 4.25 pounds

However, after 12 months there was no significant difference in weight loss in either diet in either study.

But why do Atkins-type diets lead to short-term weight loss ? A review of all studies to date on low carbs diet (Bravata) concludes that 'weight loss was principally associated with decreased calorie intake'. So although the research in these studies implies that the Atkins Diet works, it finds the results aren't that spectacular and are probably due to eating less.

Nevertheless, Atkins tends to outperform conventional low-calorie low-fat diets in terms of weight loss. A study in Ireland (Maconaghie) compared the Fatburner Diet with Unislim, a conventional low calorie, low-fat diet with support group meetings. The average weight loss after 3 months was 13.7 pounds on the Fatburner Diet, versus 2 pounds on the Unislim diet. Not only do Fatburner Diet appear to lose more weight in half the time than the average Atkins dieter, but they also feel better and have none of the risks of bone or kidney stress associated with the Atkins diet, or the risk of dry skin and essential fat deficiency associated with low fat diets.

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