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Saturday, February 20, 2010

Plant-Based "Eco-Atkins Diet" Boosts Health

Researchers have found evidence that it may be possible to use a version of the Atkins diet to improve health, rather than harming it -- a vegetarian version dubbed the "Eco-Atkins" diet.

The Atkins diet is a form of high-protein, low-carbohydrate diet that was popular in 2003 and 2004. Many health professionals blasted the diet as dangerously high in fat, and research indicated that although it lowered levels of blood triglycerides and raised levels of HDL ("good") cholesterol, it also raised levels of the dangerous LDL ("bad") cholesterol.

In the current study, conducted by researchers from the University of Toronto and published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, researchers fed 22 overweight adults with elevated LDL cholesterol levels a low-carbohydrate diet high in proteins from gluten (wheat), soy, nuts, cereals, vegetable oils, fruits and vegetables. They were compared with 22 people who ate a diet low in fat and high in carbohydrates, with high levels of low-fat dairy and whole grains.

All participants were fed only enough good to meet 60 percent of their estimated daily calorie needs, and lost an average of 8.8 pounds. Participants in the "Eco-Atkins" group had lower levels of LDL and blood pressure than those in the control group, however.

In an accompanying commentary, Katherine Tuttle and Joan Milton of Washington School of Medicine said that the research might provide a safer way to consume a low-carbohydrate diet, but stopped short of recommending it without larger, long-term studies on the potential risks.

High-protein, low-carbohydrate diets can lead to excessive water loss and kidney damage.

Dr. Dean Ornish said that the diet used in the study was quite similar to the diet he advocates, although slightly higher in vegetable fat. He objected to calling it a version of the Atkins diet, however, for fear that it might encourage people to eat the more traditional, meat-based version.

"People so badly want to believe that Atkins is good for them that they stretch things beyond credibility," Ornish said. "What it's going to be is confusing to people, and that's why I have a problem with it."

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