Dr. Atkins' Diet: Does cutting the carbs really work?
Dr. Atkins' Diet: Does cutting the carbs really work?

By Minauti Dave

For perhaps most of our lives we've been religiously scanning nutrition labels, looking for that three-letter word: FAT. Then we check to see if there is any, how much and what kind it is. Why? Because fat is not your friend. At least that's what we've heard for years from the latest researchers and studies.

But now the latest diets are turning that theory on its ear - claiming carbs are the culprit in keeping many of us on the high-end of the scale. For decades, nutritionists have touted diets that suggest people should do everything from eat more protein to cutting the carbohydrates or that they should do a little of both.

"I think diets like these are so popular because people are always looking for easy ways to lose weight. These new diets are easy alternatives for them, because it doesn't require too much effort."

EDWARD HAN,
University of Pennsylvania senior

One person who firmly believes in the carbohydrate theory is Dr. Robert C. Atkins, famous for his self-named weight loss plan, the Atkins Diet. The good doctor's plan with this diet is to steer you away from eating foods with tons of carbohydrates like breads, pasta, cereal and starchy veggies. For those dieters who are sugar junkies, Dr. Atkins considers it a carbohydrate, which means you need to cut sugar out of your diet completely. Atkins says it, like other carbohydrates, raises the level of insulin your body makes which in turn makes you fat.

According to Atkins' official Web site, there are three things that will happen if you go on the diet:

- You will burn more fat

- You'll be less hungry between meals

- Your health will improve

Other experts in the medical field don't agree and say there is a downside. Julia Solomon, a nutritionist at Syracuse University says Atkins doesn't come out and say it, but if you're eliminating every kind of carbohydrate, there's nothing left but protein and fat. Which means people on the Atkins diet eat all the butter, bacon and eggs they want and, according to the doctor, it will only raise your cholesterol levels temporarily.

Dr. Atkins' claims people on the diet have a "dramatic improvement" in both good and bad cholesterol levels and triglycerides, which is the main ingredient in fats and oils.

Benefits of Dr. Atkins' Diet:

- You'll start to burn fat for energy

- You won't feel hungry between meals

- Your health will improve and you will feel better

Solomon says another negative to a high protein diet is constipation. She adds that research shows you also lose calcium, which puts women at risk for osteoporosis, the brittle bone disease.

"The diet doesn't promote a ton of vegetables and fruits that have cancer-fighting ingredients," notes Kelly Mokay, a graduate student in the department of Food Science and Human Nutrition at Colorado State University.

Beth Kitchin, a registered dietician at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, claims the Atkins weight loss plan is a high protein diet and that people miss out on whole groups of foods with nutrients that cannot be easily replaced with daily vitamins.

Kitchin, who has read Dr. Atkins' book "Dr. Atkins New Diet Revolution," says another disadvantage to the diet is the potential for binging on carbohydrates because a person has been deprived of them for so long. For example, she says if a person stops eating their favorites like pasta and bread, they may crave -- then gorge -- on them, sabotaging their weight loss program.

With all the potential side effects and pitfalls, why are there more than 20 million people crazy about Dr. Atkins' Diet? "I think diets like these are so popular because people are always looking for easy ways to lose weight. These new diets are easy alternatives for them, because it doesn't require too much effort," says Edward Han, a University of Pennsylvania senior.

There are nutritionists who also believe the diet is successful and shouldn't be counted out. Joan Friedrich, a former nutritionist and director at the Atkins Center in New York City, says problems with the plan occur when you're doing it without consulting a nutritionist but "if you're doing it properly and correctly you should be alright."

According to Friedrich, who is now a clinical nutritionist with Life-Line Nutritional Services in Bronxville, New York, you lose about two pounds a week on the diet. She adds that few people are aware the diet doesn't immediately or drastically reduce the amount of carbohydrates, but rather it slowly phases them out of your diet. According to Atkins' Web site, "individuals raise their carbohydrate count to the level at which they can continue to maintain their goal weight."

I.F. Kelley, a nutritionist in Oregon says the Atkins diet isn't for everyone and that "there are people who will have marvelous results and some with no results."