Thursday, May 27, 2004

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — A businessman sued the promoters of the Atkins diet and the estate of founder Dr. Robert Atkins, claiming the low-carb, high-fat meal plan clogged his arteries and nearly killed him.

Jody Gorran, 53, said yesterday that he was seduced “with a bacon-wrapped cheeseburger” to blindly follow the Atkins Diet, which also made his cholesterol soar.

The suit, filed Wednesday in Palm Beach County Circuit Court, seeks $15,000. It also names the estate of the diet’s late creator, Dr. Robert Atkins.

Mr. Gorran said he started the diet in May 2001 because his weight had risen from 140 to 148 pounds. In two months, he said, his cholesterol rose from a normal 146 to an unhealthy 230, and by October 2003 he needed heart angioplasty to clear his arteries.

“I came very close to dying, and this is from a diet I thought was marvelous,” he said.

Atkins Nutritionals said it stands by the science that has “repeatedly reaffirmed the safety and health benefits of the Atkins Nutritional Approach.”

The company questioned the motivation of a Washington-based advocacy group that helped Mr. Gorran with the suit. The group, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, promotes a vegan diet banning meat, fish, dairy and egg products.

“We should not let the real issue, providing people with a scientifically validated nutritional choice in the face of a worldwide obesity and type 2 diabetes epidemic, be manipulated by this extremist animal rights vegan group,” Atkins Nutritionals stated.

For years, doctors and nutritionists have debated the Atkins diet, which advocates meat, eggs and cheese, frowns on bread, rice and fruit, and allows up to two-thirds of calories from fat, more than double the usual recommendation.

The diet doctor, who died last year at 72 after falling on an icy sidewalk, argued that carbohydrates generate too much insulin, which makes people hungrier and encourages them to put on fat. His books, including the best-selling “Dr. Atkins’ New Diet Revolution,” have sold 15 million copies and attracted millions of followers.

Atkins medical director, Dr. Stuart Trager, said the cholesterol increase claimed by Mr. Gorran is “dramatically greater than what we have seen” in scientific studies. He said a recent Duke University study showed only minor cholesterol increases, in some cases up to 10 percent.

The advocacy group said Mr. Gorran’s suit is the first to recently question the merits of the Atkins diet. In 1979, a New York jury rejected an elderly, overweight woman’s lawsuit claiming that the Atkins diet caused her heart disease.

Mr. Gorran said he believes Atkins products should warn of a risk for developing health problems when eating meat and other foods that are endorsed by the diet and are high in saturated fat.

“For 2 years, I extolled the virtues of this diet to anyone who listened because I was losing weight and I felt great. But when I started, I had no idea I was making a deal with the devil for trying to keep a 32-inch waistline,” he said.

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