Latest Research on Atkins Diet

In May the New England Journal of Medicine published two new studies looking at the Atkins Diet which, oddly enough, received diametrically different spin from different news agencies.

Here’s how the Associated Press covered the new studies,

Atkins Diet Bolstered by Two New Studies

A month after Dr. Robert C. Atkins’ death, his much-ridiculed diet has received its most powerful scientific support yet: Two studies in one of medicine’s most distinguished journals show it really does help people lose weight faster without raising their cholesterol.

But here’s how Reuters covered the exact same story,

Atkins Diet May Be No Better Than Just Cutting Fat

Shunning starchy foods in favor of meat and fat helps obese people shed some weight faster than a standard low-fat diet, but over time there may not be a big difference, researchers said on Wednesday.

In reality, these two studies really did little more than affirm previous research about the Atkins Diet. Can you lose weight on the Atkins Diet? Absolutely, especially in the short term. But in the long term, as with most fad diets, people tend to give up on the diet and/or weight loss tends to stop.

The two studies tracked people on the Atkins Diet for 6 months and 12 months. In the 6 month study, people on the Atkins Diet lost 13 pounds compared to just 4 pounds for people on a low-fat diet. But in the 12 month study, there was no significant difference in total weight loss between the two groups.

On the other hand, while showing that people can lose weight on a high protein diet, this just reinforces the likelihood that what is really going on is simply that people on these diets are simply switching from high calorie high carbohydrate diets to low calorie high protein diets. The Atkins nonsense about needing to cut carbs to burn fat is simply that — nonsense.

The magic formula for losing weight remains the same — increase exercise and reduce calories.


Atkins diet bolstered by two new studies. Associated Press, May 21, 2002.

Atkins diet may be no better than just cutting fat. Reuters, May 21, 2002.

JAMA Study: Atkins Works by Restricting Calories

A meta-analysis of dietary studies published this month in the Journal of the American Medical Association suggests that low-carbohydrate diets cause some people to lose weight through the most boring diet technique of all — calorie restriction.

The JAMA article looked at 100 studies of low-carbohydrate diets involving a total of 3,268 people. The review of those studies conclude,

There is insufficient evidence to make recommendations for or against the use of low-carbohydrate diets, particularly among participants older than age 50 years, for use longer than 90 days, or for diets of 20 g/d or less of carbohydrates. Among the published studies, participant weight loss while using low-carbohydrate diets was principally associated with decreased caloric intake and increased diet duration but not with reduced carbohydrate content.

This is consistent with a 2001 review of over 200 dietary studies published in the Journal of the American Dietary Association. That study found that calorie consumption rather than dietary composition was the biggest predictor of BMI (that study, in fact, found significantly lower BMIs for people on a high carbohydrate diet as opposed to those on a low carb diet).


Popular diets: correlation to health, nutrition, and obesity. Kennedy ET, Bowman SA, Spence JT, Freedman M, King J., J Am Diet Assoc 2001 Apr;101(4):411-20.

Study says calories count more than carbs in diets. Todd Ackerman, Houston Chronicle, April 9, 2003.

Calories still count in weight-loss game, studies find. Kim Severson, San Francisco Chronicle, April 9, 2003.

Efficacy and safety of low-carbohydrate diets: a systematic review. Bravata DM, Sanders L, Huang J, Krumholz HM, Olkin I, Gardner CD, Bravata DM, JAMA 2003 Apr 9;289(14):1837-50.

PCRM vs. the Atkins Diet: Pot Meet Kettle

In February the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine began airing a 30-second television commercial attacking high-protein diets. The commercial links high-protein diets to everything from osteoporosis to colon cancer and a voiceover intones, “You have more to lose than just weight.”

Neal Barnard told The New York Times that the ads was intended to counter a “flood of misinformation” about high-protein diets.

Okay, Neal Barnard lecturing people about dietary misinformation is a bit like the Flat Earthers complaining about Bigfoot enthusiasts being in the throes of pseudoscience. Or maybe Barnard has been helping spread dietary nonsense for so long that he figures he’s the resident expert on nonsense.

The Atkins Center in turned issuing a statement calling PCRM “an extremist vegetarian animal rights group.” To its credit, the New York Times did include a mention of the American Medical Association’s objections to PCRM’s ridiculous positions on animal testing.


Diet battles head for television. Patricia Winters Laura, The New York Times, February 18, 2003.

Can High Protein Diets Damage Kidneys?

The BBC recently reported on research conducted in the United States suggesting that people with kidney problem should avoid high protein diets — such as the Atkins diet.

The research, conducted by the Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard School of Public Health, followed 1,624 women aged 42-68 for 11 years. The women were asked to fill out questionnaires about their eating habits.

Researchers took blood samples to evaluate kidney functions and reported that 489 of the women suffered from mild kidney problems.

The BBC reports that,

The researchers found that in women ho had normal kidney function, there was no lnk between high-protein diets and a decline in renal function.

But those who already had a mild kidney problem who ate a high-protein diet, particularly one high in meat protein, showed some deterioration.

The BBC quotes researcher Eric Knight as saying,

The potential effects of dietary protein consumption on renal function on persons with mild renal insufficiency have important public health implications given the prevalence of high-protein diets.

But while high protein intake may exacerbate pre-existing kidney problems, there is no evidence that high protein consumption itself causes such problems. The BBC quotes Elizabeth Ward of the British Kidney Patient Association,

If you have healthy kidneys, you can’t eat enough protein to damage your kidneys. But there are a number of kidney diseases, which do not produce symptoms until much later on in the illness. People who are thinking of trying one of these diets should go their GP for a urine test which would pick up 90% of problems.

As always, consult your doctor before starting a weight loss regimen.


High-protein diets ‘damage kidneys’. The BBC, March 18, 2003.