- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 14, 2003

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — The dietary establishment has long argued it’s impossible, but a new study offers intriguing evidence for the idea that people on low-carbohydrate diets can actually eat more than folks on standard low-fat plans and still lose weight.

Perhaps no idea is more contentious in the diet world than the claim — long espoused by the late Robert Atkins — that people on low-carbohydrate diets can consume more calories without paying a price on the scales.

Over the past year, several small studies have shown, to many experts’ surprise, that the Atkins approach actually does work better, at least in the short run. Dieters lose more than those on a standard American Heart Association plan without driving up their cholesterol levels, as many feared would happen.

Skeptics have contended, however, that these dieters must simply be eating less. Maybe the low-carb diets are more satisfying, so they do not get so hungry. Or perhaps the food choices are just so limited that low-carb dieters are too bored to eat a lot.

Now, a small but carefully controlled study offers a strong hint that maybe Dr. Atkins was right: People on low-carb, high-fat diets actually can eat more.

The study, directed by Penelope Greene of the Harvard School of Public Health and presented at a meeting here this week of the American Association for the Study of Obesity, found that people eating an extra 300 calories a day on a very low-carb regimen lost just as much during a 12-week study as those on a standard low-fat diet.

Over the course of the study, they consumed an extra 25,000 calories. That should have added up to about 7 pounds. But for some reason, it did not.

“There does indeed seem to be something about a low-carb diet that says you can eat more calories and lose a similar amount of weight,” Miss Greene said.

That strikes at one of the most revered beliefs in nutrition: A calorie is a calorie is a calorie. It does not matter whether they come from bacon or mashed potatoes; they all go on the waistline in just the same way.

Not even Miss Greene says this settles the case, but some at the meeting found her report fascinating.

“A lot of our assumptions about a calorie is a calorie are being challenged,” said Marlene Schwartz of Yale. “As scientists, we need to be open-minded.”

In the study, 21 overweight volunteers were divided into three categories: Two groups were randomly assigned to either low-fat or low-carb diets with 1,500 calories for women and 1,800 for men; a third group was also low-carb but got an extra 300 calories a day.

The study was unique because all the food was prepared at an upscale Italian restaurant in Cambridge, Mass., so researchers knew exactly what they ate.

Each afternoon, the volunteers picked up that evening’s dinner, a bedtime snack and the next day’s breakfast and lunch. Instead of lots of red meat and saturated fat, which many find disturbing about low-carb diets, these people ate mostly fish, chicken, salads, vegetables and unsaturated oils.

Everyone’s food looked similar but was cooked to different recipes. The low-carb meals were 5 percent carbohydrate, 15 percent protein and 65 percent fat. The rest got 55 percent carbohydrate, 15 percent protein and 30 percent fat.

In the end, everyone lost weight. Those on the lower-cal, low-carb regimen took off 23 pounds, while people who got the same calories on the low-fat approach lost 17 pounds. The big surprise, though, was that volunteers getting the extra 300 calories a day of low-carb food lost 20 pounds.

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