- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 14, 2002

Happy anti-carbohydrate warriors who have lost weight by eating steak and eggs will be waiting for their moment of vindication: that the Atkins diet is not only effective but safe for the heart.
Many mainstream nutritionists are hoping they don't get what they want.
The diet world has long anticipated a serious test of the popular meat-centric diet designed in the 1960s by Dr. Robert Atkins. Now, the National Institutes of Health is funding a large-scale, five-year study of the popular eating plan, to be conducted at three national nutrition centers.
The research will attempt to give the definitive word, many arguments later, on the diet's effect on long-term weight-loss, cardiovascular health and overall wellness.
"It's hard to believe it's going to be a good diet," said James O. Hill, who will conduct the University of Colorado's Center for Human Nutrition study. "I'm certainly not on the bandwagon. But that's why we do studies to see."
The three-center study will be conducted by Mr. Hill in Colorado; Gary D. Foster at the University of Pennsylvania, who will be the study's main investigator; and Dr. Samuel Klein at Washington University's Center for Human Nutrition in St. Louis.
The anti-Atkins side says the diet is dangerous because it encourages a high intake of fat, which will raise cholesterol levels and kill energy levels. It damages energy levels, they assert, by putting the body in a perpetual state of ketosis fat-burning the body does when it is in a state of emergency.
"Just like starving, [ketosis] will make you lose weight," said Katherine Tallmadge, prominent Washington nutritionist and American Dietetic Association spokeswoman. She stressed the danger of ketosis, particularly its effects on a pregnant woman's developing fetus, and pointed out that most of the weight lost tends to come from water and muscle mass, not fat.
Dr. Atkins and his followers, who argue ketosis is not unhealthy and the diet actually helps the heart by lowering HDL (the good cholesterol) and triglycerides, have high hopes about the study.
"We are thrilled," said Atkins spokesman Colette Heimowitz, who said the controversy has been built on misinformed doctors and a confused public. "Some people misinterpret this program as a steak-and-bacon diet, and it's more about controlling carbohydrate consumption," she said.
The diet, published for the first time in the 1972 book "Dr. Atkins New Diet Revolution," has been such a "revolution" because it is couterintuitive and has a freewheeling, indulgent feel to it.
For those who got fat eating bacon cheeseburgers, it's a dream: all they have to give up is the bun. And the side of fries, of course. Pasta and bread "addicts" have a harder time giving up their beloved carbs but many of them claim the Atkins is the only diet they've tried that works.
The government's aggressive "low-fat diet" campaign that started in the 1970s has lately been blamed for the past decade's spike in obesity in America. People embraced the nonfat way of living, but "they made up for it by eating a lot more food overall," said Stephanie Smith, spokeswoman for the Colorado Dietetic Association.
Miss Tallmadge said people are attracted to the Atkins diet because it lets them eat fatty foods and because it's fast. She hopes the study will make plain what some nutritionists already preach.
"It's too bad so much money had to be spent on this because there is no question a diet high in meat and animal fat is deleterious to your health," she said. "The scientists have been pretty frustrated, and this is their attempt to make people understand the science behind the Atkins diet."


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