High Protein Diets Exonerated
Vindication tastes so sweet. One is only left to ponder whether the dead and gone have a taste for sweetness, or irony. Van Gogh as a billionaire with gardens full of sunflowers, Philip K. Dick as a powerful Hollywood mogul, thrilling us with his own (better) versions of Total Recall and Minority Report. Would that it were so.
Robert Atkins has gained his well-earned vindication, conferred by that pinnacle of cultural authority, the New England Journal of Medicine. And he too is dead. He probably did have the privilege of pre-publication knowledge before his death, and so derived some level of satisfaction before fatally bonking his head on a New York sidewalk. Atlkins sold 10 million books, but the medical establishment never even paid him lip service, until now.
Two studies sought to disprove the Atkins high-protein, low-carbohydrate diet. They picked the toughest group of people to study, the severely obese, and put them on the Atkins vs a conventional low-fat diet. Wonder of wonders, the Atkins group won, despite a hefty drop-out rate. In one of the studies (63 people), the low-carb group lost twice as much weight after six months and their HDL cholesterol (the good one) went up, while their triglycerides and insulin sensitivity went down (despite eating all that fat). In the other study (132 people), the low-carb group lost more weight and their triglyceride and insulin sensitivity levels also decreased.
The two studies published in the May 22 issue of the New England Journal www.nejm.org were met with skepticism and reservations by the media and medical officialdom. Do they put the last nail in the coffin of carbohydrates? No. Will they make nutritionists stand the regulation food pyramid on its head? Not yet. But the carbohydrate craze that began in the sixties with a return to whole grains has been dealt another setback. The carbohydrate enterprise, begun with the best intentions of the natural foods community, and taken up by a fiber-happy public has run aground amidst a nation beset by obesity.
The take-home lesson from these studies is indeed that a low-carb, high-protein, high-fat diet decreases the indicators of heart disease and diabetes, and causes more weight loss than the low-fat Pritikin-type models of a now bygone era. Diets high in protein sources are not as cheap and easy as in the halcyon days of bagels and pasta, but weight loss was never a painless endeavor. Excess carbohydrate consumption is making America (and all those other countries who follow the western diet paradigm) fat. The simple solution is to bypass the bakery and pass the protein. The difficult issue, as ever, is to balance the need for more vegetables, fruits, and perishable protein with the seemingly ever-increasing hectic pace of modern life. Perhaps we need to slow down along with the economy and save up our pennies for those precious organic protein products.