September 30, 2010

Is the Atkins Diet a High Fat Diet?

Drop into any low-carb diet board or egroup and you'll soon hear the Atkins Diet described as being a high-fat diet. But the truth of that description depends on who you ask, and who you want to believe.

Those who are entering the diet for the first time do find a great metabolic advantage, initially, while the body discovers and learns how to use an alternative metabolic pathway it hasn't used before. In the process, it does exactly what Dr. Atkins claimed: sneaks calories out of the body through incompletely burned ketones, a by-product of the breakdown of fats in the liver.

Hence Dr. Atkins advice in the 2002 version of the diet while introducing the dieter to the initial phase of Induction was that "liberal amounts of fats and oils are permitted." However, eventually the body learns to use this alternative pathway to best advantage and begins milking each and every ketone for every molecule of energy it can. At which point, the state of being keto adapted contains little to no metabolic advantage.

If following the program, as written, most dieters would be part-way up the carb ladder by that time, and would have learned how to make more healthy food choices, learned their own carb tolerance level for losing body fat, and would be consuming less dietary fat than they were initially. However, the honest truth is that few dieters do the Atkins plan by the book, which is why there is so much misinformation circulating among the low-carb diet groups these days.

If you listen to what the greater majority of individuals say on these groups, you'd easily be led to believe that the Atkins Diet is a high-fat diet, (must be a high-fat diet, in fact), because fat is the miracle nutrient that makes it work. Having trouble sticking with the diet? Add more fat. Stalled for a few weeks? Add more fat. Can't get rid of sugar and carbohydrate cravings? Add more fat.

No matter what the problem is, the answer is always to add more fat.

I've had a knee-jerk reaction to that line of thinking for awhile now; partly because I personally have not found that fact or advice to be true. But also because I knew I'd seen a quote somewhere where Dr. Atkins himself had proclaimed his diet to not be a high-fat diet.

Well, I ran into that quote a couple of days ago, in a book published in 1981 called "Dr. Atkins' Nutrition Breakthrough: How to Treat Your Medical Condition Without Drugs." I thought I'd share it, because it flat-out contradicts what the greater majority of low-carb folks believe.

Considering this quote comes from a time when the Atkins Diet contained very little "green," it's particularly enlightening:

"Those of you who read my first book, Dr. Atkins' Diet Revolution, know what diet to follow -- there was only one. Millions of dieters simply called it the Atkins Diet. It was a very low carbohydrate reducing diet (not a high-fat diet, as many of my nonreading critics asserted)."

Now consider that this was said in 1981 when the original form of the Atkins' Diet was all there was: meat and eggs, 2 cups (per day) of loosely packed salad (made with various forms of lettuce, cucumber, celery, and radishes only) and dressed with oil and vinegar, 4-ounces of hard yellow cheese, 4 teaspoons heavy cream per day, diet gelatin, powdered or regular mustard, worcestershire sauce, soy sauce, the juice of 1 lemon, herbs and spices with no sugar, and sugar substitutes of the day. No catsup and no tomato products allowed.

While 1/2 cup vegetables (including tomatoes), cottage cheese, nuts, and berries were later added depending upon the dieter's tolerance for carbs, the original Atkins' Induction was a severely limited diet. A pat of butter was allowed on top of your steak, or some mayonnaise mixed into chicken or tuna salad or smeared on top of salmon, and a little oil was allowed to be mixed with vinegar to dress the salad -- but that's about all the extra fats there were.

This design was intentional. According to Dr. Atkins:

"One of the big reasons why this diet works so successfully is because you eat protein and fat. And you eat them in just about the sixty to forty proportions in which they usually occur together in nature: in a reasonably lean cut of beef for example." (From Dr. Atkins' Diet Revolution: The Famous Vogue Superdiet Explained in Full)

Hmmm. Nothing like what is preached within the low-carb community today, is it. Folks read to eat protein and fat, then stop reading (or listening) before they get to the part that describes how they are supposed to do that: by eating reasonably lean cuts of beef, and consuming fat and protein in the proportion it is found in nature.

As originally written, the Atkins' Diet was not a high-fat diet, nor was it ever intended to be such. Low-carb products and high-fat, homemade low-carb recipes and treats are all modern-day additions to the diet Dr. Atkins personally used with his overweight clients.

Now granted, fats help with blood sugar control, allow a bit more variety to the diet, and help to keep dieting from being such a hardship. They make a diet livable and contribute essential fatty acids necessary for normal metabolic function. However, they were never intended to be abused to the extent that most low-carb dieters abuse them today. They were originally intended to be a helpmeet; not a diet mainstay.

The bottom line is that once a dieter becomes keto adapted, all of the calories in the diet matters, especially fat calories, because their non-carb status causes them to be overlooked. So if struggling with your current weight-loss plan, take a little advice from Dr. Atkins and look at your fats consumption. Are you eating them in the same proportions found in nature, or are you eating them mostly in low-carb products and high-fat recipes?

You just might be surprised to find that you're eating far more calories than you think.

September 26, 2010

Getting Back on the Wagon – It's Time!

Photo by: Joe Mabel

It's been months since I last climbed back into the wagon and attempted to go the rest of the distance to my weight-loss goal of 125 pounds. Not since I tried out a zero-carb diet in hopes of using it as a kind of elimination diet to get better control over my gluten intolerance. That bad experience took months before I was able to overcome the consequences of a runaway gluconeogenesis.

With my blood glucose finally back to normal (now that I've partially recovered from my flea-bomb fiasco), I came to the realization a couple of weeks ago that despite my kickin' and hollerin' against it, I really needed to just buckle down and do the type of diet that I know works for me.

While I was wishing and hoping a more moderate-carb diet would have worked (and it probably would have if my in-laws hadn't thrown a wrench into my plans, since that's the way I got the gluconeogenesis to stop), I had to finally face the truth: that a typical, high-fat, low-carb diet is not going to take me the rest of the way.

At which point the question suddenly became one of what are you going to do about that? I had been following a typical low-carb diet for a few weeks prior in an attempt to get my blood glucose levels back under control (which worked well all of a sudden, to my surprise) when I had to face that truth. The scale wasn't budging, hadn't budged, and wasn't going to obviously.

But gosh...lowering my fat intake and returning to chicken breast (which I can't stand) and other lean meats was not something I was looking forward too. I kindda wanted to keep my dairy addiction intact.

Still, I'd reached a point where I realized I was faced with only 2 choices: continue to tow the low-carb party line and stay fat, or move to a diet with a lower fat and calorie content, and see if my body was ready to give up the rest of its excess fat stores.

So after an unplanned weekend that my husband and I spent in Las Vegas (we went down there to help a friend of ours who was moving there), I returned to my own personalized diet plan. The plan I was following just before the Kimkins stuff hit the fan. The way I lost the greater majority of my excess weight so far. Yucky is putting it mildly; but at least it's working as well as it did then.

After our unexpected vacation weekend (where I'd put on a good 5 pounds due to the excess carbs; I consider it great if I can get her to understand no gluten), I started this diet round at 177.8 pounds. With all of that being glycogen/water, it came right back off within the first few days, plus more.

So my return to dieting has gone well. In fact, with my 3rd week almost behind me now, my weight is just above where it was when I quit and gave up on Weight Watchers due to my metabolism tanking. I'm just slightly above my set point, and my body is starting to go kindda wonky about that. The lowest I was able to go on the old Weight Watchers diet (back in the exchange list days) was 160 pounds.

Today I weighed in at 161.8, so I've crashed through my low-carb set point of 170; but as I head towards my Weight Watchers' set point of 160, my weight has been bouncing up and down all week. To be expected I guess, but no matter how long you've been low-carbing, you still keep hoping that this time, it's going to be an easy ride.

September 01, 2010

Saturated Fat Debate and the Reliability of Scientific Studies

While going through my email box this morning, I ran into an old Metabolism Society Newsletter. The articles were focused on saturated fat and the fallacy that it causes heart disease.

Not really news for low carbers.

I did find it interesting that the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) in connection with the World Health Organization (WHO) studied the issue way back in 2008 and came to some new conclusions. At least, new for them, and probably new for most medical authorities.

Their findings were published in the Annals of Nutrition and Metabolism, "Fats and Fatty Acids in Human Nutrition," 55:(1-3), 2009. But I wasn't able to get into the full length report - either because my computer froze up on me (I have badly damaged RAM), or because the availability was taken down due to the nature of the report.

I was able to get into the introduction (that's what the link leads to) that did claim that "today we have a better understanding of how particular fatty acids are metabolized in the body" and that "Fats and fatty acids are now considered key nutrients affecting both early growth and development, as well as nutrition-related chronic diseases later in life."

However, I couldn't verify the information where they stated that saturated fatty acid intake is not associated with coronary heart disease events, nor that fatal coronary heart disease was not reduced by low fat diets. If someone is able to get into it and verify that info, I'd appreciate a heads-up.

I was able to get into a meta-analysis that came to the same conclusion: that there is insufficient evidence from scientific studies to date to be able to conclude that saturated fat is associated with an increased risk of heart disease, stroke, or even coronary artery disease. And that does back up Gary Taubes' opinion.

But don't get your hopes up that the truth will be coming out any time soon, because these researchers also found what appeared to be publication bias. Studies that showed associations between saturated fat and heart disease tended to be received more favorably for publication, and those that didn't never made it into print.

That sheds some pretty disturbing light onto scientific studies as a whole, doesn't it, and the conclusions that are drawn from those studies. How can they be trusted when they aren't likely to be published unless they tow the party line?

I'd read awhile back the opinion that scientific studies are always slanted toward the findings that those funding the study want to find, and that they are manipulated and even falsified to that end; but since the source was controversial, I didn't know if that was true or not.

But now...I'm not so sure that it isn't.

It's more than a little disturbing, to say the least, that we can't actually get the health information we need; like why many of us stop losing weight part-way to goal, no matter what we do. And it's downright crazy if scientific journals are adverse to publishing studies that don't side with what authorities want us to believe. Or do.

Because that means many of us will have to continue hanging out to dry - until someone important deems it necessary for the public to know the truth. Could be an awfully long wait....