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Yes, fad diets work, but....
One of the concerns with diets that drastically restrict the amount of fat, protein, or carbohydrates is the lack of evidence regarding their long-term effects on one's health, especially cholesterol scores. Researchers at Stanford University recently released a study comparing the effects of several popular diets (Atkins, the Zone, and Ornish) with the more traditionally recommended diet pattern of low-fat, high-carbohydrate, and reduced calories.
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If you've been following Dr. Gourmet for a while, you already know what I think about the Atkins Diet and other low-carbohydrate diets: why follow a diet - any diet - that takes entire food groups away from you? Certainly we know that such diets work to help people lose weight, which is largely due to the fact that when most people stop eating carbohydrates, they stop eating junk. Unfortunately, the Atkins diet is not a diet that can be sustained for the long term, and the Atkins diet does not prepare people for eating real food: when they go off the diet they usually gain the weight back, and then some.
There's been some concern about the long term health risks of such diets. We've seen that those eating higher protein diets that were also high in saturated fat were more likely to develop heart disease than those whose higher protein diet came from vegetable protein sources. Such extremely-low-carbohydrate diets also seem to affect your thinking abilities.
Recently a group of researchers affiliated with Harvard University looked at whether low carbohydrate diets such as the Atkins diet had any effect on a person's risk of developing Type 2 diabetes (Am J Clin Nutr 2011;93(4):844-50). They made use of information gathered through the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study, which included over 40,000 men who did not have Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes, heart disease or cancer at the start of the study, which began in 1986. Every other year the participants responded to a health and lifestyle survey, along with a food frequency questionnaire which allowed the researchers to assess the subjects' usual diets.
After 20 years of follow-up (ending in late 2006), the researchers looked at the participants' dietary information and identified those persons whose diets would be considered "low-carbohydrate diets." Those persons' diets were then further broken out into three different varieties of low-carbohydrate diets:
The researchers then compared the diets of those who developed Type 2 diabetes with those who did not. They found that diets high in animal protein that included red and processed meats and high animal fat were almost 75% more likely to develop Type 2 diabetes than those who followed a more moderate diet. On the other hand, a diet low in carbohydrates but high in vegetable proteins and fats was not associated with a higher risk of Type 2 diabetes and appeared to be protective for those men under the age of 65.
We already know that the Mediterranean Diet is the best diet for those who have Type 2 diabetes and that following such a diet reduces your risk of developing heart disease as well as diabetes. Why would you give up carbohydrates in order to reduce your risk of diabetes when you can eat real food and still reduce your risk of diabetes?
First posted: April 20, 2011