Atkins Diet: Bad News, Good News

Published Online: Friday, August 1, 2003

Although the popular high-fat, low-carbohydrate Atkins diet gained some respectability after recent studies published in the New England Journal of Medicine, experts warn that the unwanted pounds are likely to return. However, researchers who compared the effects on weight loss and cardiovascular risk factors of the Atkins plan and a traditional low-calorie diet in 2 clinical trials had good news: They found that the Atkins diet did not cause alarming increases in serum cholesterol and even reduced 1 or 2 cardiac risk factors.

It was no surprise that when people lost weight their cholesterol level did not rise (in fact, it lowered in some participants). Also, with a diet that contains little sugar and refined starches, it was no surprise that triglyceride levels decreased. The only surprise finding was a rise in high-density lipoprotein cholesterol among the Atkins participants. This finding may indicate that the body compensates for a diet rich in saturated fats and cholesterol by manufacturing more of the substance that helps the arteries ward off fatty deposits. The investigators pointed out, nevertheless, that neither of the studies was designed to determine the long-term safety or effectiveness of the Atkins regimen.

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