Most of you have read or heard about by now the article that appeared in the New York Times Magazine by Gary Taubes, entitled What if It's All Been a Big Fat Lie? The article basically examined the lack of valid scientific evidence to support the theory touted by the medical establishment and government-funded institutions that dietary fat and cholesterol are to blame for our country's epidemics of obesity, heart disease, diabetes and related diseases. Those who are familiar with our nutritional philosophy can imagine how pleased we were that this information was finally receiving mainstream media attention. In fact, after the article was published, many of the major television and radio news stations ran programs on the topic and the article specifically.
The bulk of the controversy surrounded evidence cited in the article that the fat and cholesterol theory is based on faulty scientific studies from the 1950's and unsupported conclusions and statements made by government officials and the medical establishment. This theory was subsequently adopted by the USDA as the basis for its dietary guidelines for the United States. The article talked about how the motive for this campaign has been money (really?) and pride. If you have not read the article, we highly recommend you do. You can find the full text at:
So why are we writing about a topic that has been talked to death? We are concerned because many readers of The New York Times article are under the impression that it was promoting the Atkins diet as the cure for obesity and disease. We are concerned that in response to this provocative and convincing information that you will all go out and dive into the Atkins diet. And why does that concern us? Because the Atkins diet may not be the answer you've been looking for. Sure, the prevailing evidence supports the fact that a carbohydrate-restricted diet can be very effective in causing your body to burn more fat and reduce your chances of having elevated cholesterol, high blood pressure, and diabetes. And yes, of all the "diets" being promoted by weight-loss clinics and best-selling books, the Atkins diet is associated with the least amount of health risks and side effects. What concerns us is what has not been said about the Atkins diet.
In the form in which it appears in his books and other promotional materials, the Atkins diet contains an inordinate amount of chemicals and unnatural foods. It is loaded with artificial sweeteners and food additives, many of which can be found in packaged baked goods throughout the interior isles of your local supermarket. Although not enough long term studies have been conducted on the impact of these types of food products on our health, the rates of cancer, endocrine and metabolic disorders have been on the rise since their introduction into our diets. Even heart disease has been linked to the consumption of unnatural fats in some studies. In fact, Atkins himself recently suffered from a heart attack caused by a condition known as cardiomyopathy — an enlargement and/or thickening of the heart tissue. Atkins claimed that the incident was caused by a non-coronary infection that happened to spread to his heart, but what did we expect him to say? If it was revealed that Atkins had heart disease, it would be very bad for business. Very bad, indeed. What is quite disconcerting about this whole incident is that we could not really find any information in our research (and we checked numerous sources) beyond what was said by Atkins himself and his own personal physicians.
Here are some of the food products promoted and sold by Atkins on his website:
Quick and Easy Fudge Brownie Mix: maltitol, maltodextrin, cornstarch (low glycemic,) Wheat gluten, cocoa processed with alkali, Polydextrose, Xanthan Gum, salt, Natural and artificial flavor, Potassium Bicarbonate, Baking Soda, Sucralose
Quick and Easy Pancake and Waffle Mix: Wheat gluten, hi-maize cornstarch (low-glycemic,) casein protein, Whey Protein, Baking Soda, Sodium Aluminum Phosphate, Mono-Calcium Phosphate, Natural Flavor, Sucralose
Strawberry Supreme Shake: Water, calcium caseinate, soy oil, whey protein, cellulose gel, Contains less than 5% of the following: Natural and artificial flavor, Potassium Phosphate, Soy Lecithin, Carrageenan, Sucralose, Maltodextrin, Magnesium Phosphate, Tricalcium Phosphate, D-Biotin, D-Calcium Pantothenate, Folic Acid, Niacenamide, Pyrodoxine hydrochloride, sodium ascorbate, thiamin mononitrate, vit a Palmitate, vit B12, Ribiflavin, V D-3, V E Acetate, K-1, Chromium Chloride, Copper Sulfate, Ferous Sulfate, Manganese Sulfate, Potassium Chloride, Potassium Citrate, Potassium Iodide, Sodium Citrate, Sodium molybdate, Sodium Selenate, Sinc Sulfate
As you can see, these products contain very little actual food. Substances like wheat gluten, calcium caseinate, sucralose, and artificial flavors are all unnatural food additives and can be very disruptive to the human metabolism. Some of the presumably more natural foods approved in this diet are fried meats and whole pasteurized milk. However, these foods contain denatured fats (caused by exposing natural fats to excessive heat) which can be very disruptive to our endocrine system and hormone production. For more information on the impact of food additives and denatured fats on your health, go to http://www.westonaprice.org and http://www.mercola.com .
So if Atkins is not the answer, what can you eat!? If you are in desperate need of fairly quick weight loss because of health concerns, a carbohydrate restricted diet will most likely be effective in the short term. However, right around the time you have achieved some of that initial weight loss, you will more than likely be ready to kill for a bagel. This is because for many people, an Atkins type approach promotes metabolic imbalances and thus severe food cravings, such as for refined carbohydrates. This is why for the long term (like the rest of your life) the best nutrition plan for anyone should consist of predominately fresh, whole, natural, organic foods. It should contain very little, if any, refined grains (flour products) and sugars and food additives.
We agree with Atkins to the extent that we need to limit our intake of refined carbohydrates if we hope to avoid obesity and other degenerative diseases. We should credit Atkins for creating this awareness among the American public and eventually forcing the government and medical establishment to revisit the role of protein and fat in our diets. However, a healthy diet is not just about protein, fat and carbohydrates. There are essential micronutrients such as vitamins and minerals that play an enormous role in our health and longevity. And just like vegetables can't be replaced with bread and pasta, these essential micronutrients cannot be replaced with synthetic vitamins and minerals and food additives. While environmental and man-made factors have depleted the vitamin and mineral content in our natural food supply, it is possible to address these deficiencies with natural vitamin and mineral supplements. Since we are all biochemically unique, we cannot all be expected to enjoy optimum health on the same diet. To determine which nutritional approach is best for you, you should consult with a qualified nutritional consultant. At the minimum, that practitioner should have you complete a health history/lifestyle questionnaire and a written diet record.
So before you go jumping on the Atkins diet bandwagon because it's easy and supported by existing science, consider whether it really makes sense to you. Does it make sense to substitute unnatural fats and food additives for flour-based products? And why did Atkins have a heart attack?