In the last decade a multitude of studies on restricted carbohydrate intake has dramatically changed the research landscape. This newer research builds upon older information on carbohydrate-restricted diets, including the use of low-carbohydrate diets by a variety of Aboriginal hunting cultures that persisted for thousands of years. Let’s take a brief look at some of the recent research that has evaluated the program’s safety and efficacy.
Among these are seven studies that lasted from six months to two years, usually comparing the Atkins Diet to other common weight loss strategies. Here’s what they found:
• In terms of total weight loss, in each case, individuals on Atkins did at least as well as—and usually better than—than those on other diets, despite the fact that they had no restriction on calories as long as they stayed within the carb guidelines. (In most cases, participants wound up consuming as few calories as individuals on the other diets because their appetites were better controlled.)
• Risk factors such as high blood triglycerides, low HDL cholesterol levels, and elevated blood pressure consistently showed improvement with carbohydrate restriction. Whether over months or years, the various parameters were as good, and in most cases better, with the Atkins Diet. In no case did Atkins worsen any important parameter.
• In each of these seven studies, the subjects received varying degrees of ongoing dietary support after the first few weeks or months. And they didn’t select the diet that appealed to them; instead, they were randomly assigned to one of the various diets, which would tend to limit the degree of success in the group as a whole. Without counseling, many individuals went beyond their carb threshold. Nonetheless, groups assigned to Atkins did better on average than those assigned a high-carbohydrate diet.
Another study didn’t formally use the Atkins Diet, although it was initially similar to Phase 1, Induction phase. Nor did it compare a low-carb program to other diets. But this research, done in Kuwait, demonstrated the magnitude of beneficial change that a low-carb diet can provide when subjects receive ongoing support. In this case, sixty-six obese individuals, some with elevated blood sugar and cholesterol, consumed 80 to 100 gram per day of protein from meat and fish, 20 grams of carbohydrate from salad vegetables, 5 tablespoons of olive oil for cooking and dressing vegetables, and a multivitamin/multimineral supplement.
After 12 weeks, the carbohydrate intake was raised to 40 grams per day (similar to that in Ongoing Weight Loss), including some berries and nuts. The subjects were monitored and supported as outpatients for a year, at which time their average weight loss was more than 60 pounds.
A subgroup with elevated blood sugar (some were diabetic) experienced a rapid reduction. Within eight weeks, all were with the normal range for blood sugar level, where it remained for the duration of the study. This diet outperformed that of any of the randomized groups in the other seven studies, due in part to the fact that the subjects chose their diet, rather than being assigned to it. Additionally, the supportive office staff counseled them, including giving them specific advice on the kind of fat to eat, showing what’s possible when a safe and effective low-carb diet is combined with an enabling support staff in a clinical setting.
The lesson here is not so much that the Atkins Diet “beat” every other diet in these studies, but that the basic principles of the Atkins approach—even when individuals followed the program loosely—produced significant more benefits, not only in weight loss but also in overall health. So what we’re seeing here is a “real-world” scenario. Participants may not have achieved perfection, but they did achieve results—and nothing speaks louder than results. For more on these studies: