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HealthWatch: Atkins Vs. Low Fat Diet

Childhood obesity (credit: AP Photo/Gary Kazanjian)

Childhood obesity (credit: AP Photo/Gary Kazanjian)

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A recent study tested both traditional low-fat diets and the Atkins low-carbohydrate diet, and came up with surprising results as to which is safer and more effective.

It’s no secret that we’re in the middle of an obesity epidemic in this country, with two-thirds of the population either overweight or obese, so a diet plan that helps people lose weight but without raising their risk factors for things like heart disease, would be a big deal.

That’s what researchers at Temple University in Philadelphia tried to answer. They took more than 300 volunteers and put half on a traditional restricted calorie, low-fat diet with about half those calories coming from carbs and less than a third coming from fat.

The other half ate an Atkins-style diet where volunteers could eat as much fat and protein as they wanted as long as they kept their carbohydrate intake very low.

Turns out both diets work.

“Both groups lost identical amounts of weight throughout the study period. At one year the weight losses were 11-percent in each group, and at two years, they were 7-percent,” said Dr. Gary Foster of Temple University.

What was surprising was the difference that the two diets had on heart disease markers in the blood. The low-carb Atkins Diet has been criticized for what it might do to blood fats and cholesterol. After closely following the 300 volunteers for two years, they found the conventional wisdom, that low-carb diets would make cardiovascular risk factors worse, was wrong.

“It appears that across a lot of cardiovascular risk factors, blood pressure, lipid profiles, that a low carbohydrate diet was actually associated with significant improvements. It also says that compared to a low fat diet, it actually produced greater increases in HDL cholesterol, the good cholesterol,” Foster said.

And the bad cholesterol, LDL, was just about the same between the two diets. Even the fear that low-carb diets would lead to thinning bones did not seem to be true. Bottom line, since most health markers are similar between the 2 types of diets… choose whichever you think you can stay on.

Another key finding of the study was that both groups needed what’s called behavioral interventions to be effective, things such as recording what they eat, logging their exercise, and limiting triggers for overeating such as watching TV or eating in the car.