Wednesday, March 07, 2007

If The Atkins Diet Works As Well As Low-Fat, Then Why Not Recommend It?

Boy, we've got the low-fatties beside themselves today!

After the release of this JAMA study on Tuesday that is making tons of positive headlines for livin' la vida low-carb, you would think those who support low-fat diets were just told the government was no longer going to actively recommend that way of eating as the publicly-endorsed nutritional approach for getting healthy.

Of course, you know that wouldn't be such a bad idea if it happened. GASP! LOL! More about that in a moment.

I was privileged to be invited to join a teleconference debate last night sponsored by, a new web site dedicated to helping people take action to manage their health care, conditions and healthy living goals by bringing together a blend of the best health information, tools, communities and services all in one place. It's a free site that is worthy of your attention if you are like me and care about the subject of health.

The debate itself was between Dr. Michael Dansinger, MD who authored this JAMA study comparing various popular diets in 2005 and Dr. James Hill, PhD. from the National Weight Control Registry (NWCR). Neither one of these men are what I would call enthusiastic supporters of livin' la vida low-carb, but Dr. Dansinger is at least respectful of the diet. Dr. Hill, on the other hand, has his doubts about the Atkins diet beyond short-term weight loss. I'll explain why I think he believes this way shortly.

Jason Rosenberg, who hosted the call, asked me to invite people to the call since my "Livin' La Vida Low-Carb" blog was one of the more prominent ones in the low-carb community. So, I e-mailed a handful of low-carb supporters across the various fields of academia, research, advocacy, and blogging and came up with people who I thought could join me and the other low-fat diet bloggers and advocates as we hash out the the details of this study.

But when I called just minutes before the teleconference began at 7:30pm, imagine my surprise when every single one of the people participating in the call was in some way connected to the low-carb community. What?! Where were the low-fat diet bloggers and supporters? Were they simply unwilling to engage in a little spirited debate surrounding these newfound facts about the Atkins diet? Surely you jest?!

Nope! It was true. Not one single person beside Dr. Hill was there to defend low-fat, despite the fact that Jason invited them just like he did me. In a way I felt bad for Dr. Hill because I didn't want him to think all of us low-carbers were ganging up on him like a bunch of blood-thirsty savage wolves seeking to devour some freshly-caught prey. I'm sure that may be how he felt once we all started asking our questions and making our comments.

So, who was on the call with me? Here's the list:

- Dr. Mary C. Vernon from the University of Kansas
- Dr. Eric Westman from Duke University Medical Center
- Laura Dolson from About Low-Carb Diets
- Kate Welch from The Steaks Are High
- Dr. Gil Wilshire from The Carbohydate Awareness Council
- Regina Wilshire from Weight Of The Evidence
- Dana Carpender from Lowcarbezine!
- Marilyn Turnbow from Atkins YAHOO! Group

It was quite a distinguished panel and I was honored to be a part of it. After some formal introductions of the speakers and an informal roll call of everyone who was participating, both Dr. Dansinger and Dr. Hill gave their assessment of what they thought about the Gardner study that released on Tuesday.

Interestingly, both men agreed that there is very clear evidence from the body of research that has come out in the past few years about low-carb diets that they should not be dismissed altogether. But what irritated me the most was when Dr. Hill kept insisting on giving the caveat "in the short-term" whenever he discussed low-carb diets. Oh, they're great for weight loss "in the short-term" and I wouldn't have any problem with someone wanting to try that diet "in the short term."


As you can imagine, I was chomping at the bit to ask my question and Jason gave me the first shot. So I asked Dr. Hill point blank if low-carb is only good for the short-term, then how am I supposed to eat long-term? He responded by stating that if it's working for me then keep doing it, but it does not work well for everyone. Thankfully, he did admit the same thing about low-fat diets, but the same scrutiny does not exist for that diet.

One interesting statement made by Dr. Hill that quite frankly floored me was when he said low-carb diets are as equally ineffective after a year just as low-fat diets are. Did you catch that apparent slip of the tongue? He just said low-fat diets are INEFFECTIVE after a year. If that's true, Dr. Hill, then why do we keep having what you admit is a FAILED message hammered down our throats year in and year out? Isn't the low-fat, low-calorie diet what your National Weight Control Registry recommends as the long-term way to lose weight?

Taking his thesis that low-carb is equal to low-fat in bringing about weight loss and improved health (or not) a little further, I asked a follow-up question for Dr. Hill a few minutes later asking if the Atkins diet works just as well as the low-fat diets, then why aren't government and health entities recommending both alongside each other? Dr. Hill said that was an important question to ask, but never really said if he believed it could, should, or would ever happen. There's a reason he ducked at that question.

Dr. Hill's answer was not at all surprising considering his obvious conflict of interests I blogged about previously with his ties to the food industry. Dr. Hill is on the advisory board for the Grain Foods Foundation and has consulting ties to PepsiCo, McDonald's, HealtheTech, Johnson & Johnson, Procter & Gamble, and Coca-Cola. He has also received speaker fees from Abbott Laboratories, Roche Laboratories, and Kraft Foods as well as research funding from M&Ms/Mars. The Sugar Association has also funded his research on the role of carbohydrates in weight management.

And this is the same man, along with Dr. Rena Wing from Brown University/Miriam Hospital, who supposedly speaks for what works for people to bring about weight loss over the long-term according to the much-heralded NWCR. Ever since I joined the NWCR in 2005, I have been concerned about their apparent bias against low-carb while the low-fat, low-calorie diet is so heavily endorsed. Frankly I'm surprised nobody outside the low-carb community is as concerned about this as I am.

This conversation about developing long-term weight and health strategies is an important one to discuss as Dr. Vernon so eloquently mentioned regarding providing individuals with the support they need to be successful. Before that happens, though, we must all agree that if low-carb diets are as effective as low-fat diets (and that's what the evidence has shown in multiple studies now), then they deserve equal footing, equal treatment, and equal endorsement by our leaders.

The time for talking about this is over. We've seen the research and it shows that low-carb is as good or better than low-fat diets for at least one year. With this knowledge under our belt, when are we going to stop pandering to the special interests in the food industry and finally do the right thing--PROMOTE LOW-CARB AND LOW-FAT AS EQUALS! This is a public charge to health leaders like Dr. Hill and the like to stand up and do the right thing.

Kate from "The Steaks Are High" blog summarized it well in her post about the teleconference call echoing my message of equal treatment for low-carb diets.

"All low carbers are asking for is that the low-carb approach be recommended as an option alongside low fat, since the medical safety of Atkins has been proven by this and many other studies. Oh yeah, and that the American Heart Association and the American Diabetes Association read some of the latest research for a change."

That really is all we are asking for. Livin' la vida low-carb doesn't have to be advocated (although it could be argued that low-fat diets HAVE been for decades), but simply put on the table as a viable option for people to try if they need to lose weight and get healthy. What harm will come if people are given a choice, hmmm?

E-mail Dr. James Hill and urge him to use his powerful position in the realm of health and nutrition to push government and health leaders to promote low-carb alongside low-fat in national dietary recommendations at

3-7-07 UPDATE: You can now listen to the audio of this nearly one-hour teleconference call I blogged about. ENJOY!

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Blogger The Bunnell Farm said...

Jimmy your worth your weight in gold. Yours is a one man army in an onslaught of ignorance. This thing is so huge it defies description. Sugar and fat. Who would have ever thought something of this magnitude could have ever occurred. Keep up the great work. Tom

3/07/2007 10:27 AM  
Blogger BamaGal said...

Jimmy--thank you for such an in depth account as always---I am concerned also with the conflict of interest shown here by these so called researchers----it is clear they profit from the continued focus of low-cal low-fat dogma. I just took the time to sign up on their website. My answers will really screw up their numbers.
I am also going to encourage others to do the same.

3/07/2007 12:04 PM  
Blogger teapotsgalore said...

I love your blog on this! I was excited to see an AP wire story about this in the first section of my paper this morning (not buried in the back), but somewhat disheartened to see that while the headline seems to be that the results are supportive of Atkins, the reporter managed to deflate everything by the end of the article, wrapping it all up by pointing out that no one group stayed on their diet stringently so somehow that means there is no really good diet for weight loss. What a crock! The fact that people want to keep eating the way that made them fat in the first place apparently means that the only way the media will trumpet weight-loss success is if we can magically lose weight while not changing a thing. This doesn't seem terribly realistic. On the plus side, the results of this test supporting a low-carb WOE are showing up in newspapers, and that's good.

3/07/2007 12:08 PM  
Blogger Science4u1959 said...

Well I guess I must be the exception to the (Hill) rule, then, or I must be doing something terribly wrong - as I kept the weight off by adhering to a controlled-carb regimen (Atkins) for over a decade now. Sorry, Dr. Hill, but it really works - and keeps working. Why would it stop working, for Pete's sakes? Where's your evidence? Show me the scientific studies, buster!

3/07/2007 1:01 PM  
Blogger The Bunnell Farm said...

I'm going to just pick a number, say fifty million years or five thousand years or fifty thousand years, you pick! OK, now lets look at the peoples existence for all those years on every continent on the planet earth. Now lets look at there diets. Now lets look at there quality of life and longevity. They all lived in perfect health for well over a hundred years each. That's perfect mental, spiritual and physical health, 100% perfect health to well over a hundred years old. That is the Atkins original diet. I hate to pee on your parade boys/guys(be ye north or south)but that same diet also excludes caffeine, and I know you don't want to hear that. Perfect health is water, food, air and sunshine and our families. Tom

3/07/2007 1:49 PM  
Blogger Sparky's Girl said...

You hit the nail on the head when you said that the low-fatties were beside themsleves about this. I just blogged about some of the whining they are doing.

The conflict of interest concerns me as well. There should be some kind of code of ethics that mandates complete impartiality. I would think if you served on ANY board for ANY company that could be effected by a study, you should be disassociated from said study. It would certainly make these studies seem more credible.

3/07/2007 2:02 PM  
Blogger Jake Silver said...

Jimmy, I love love love this Blog... as I've said before, I don't really even see much that much difference in the two approaches. We all know we should be not eating the sugar and the corn syrup, eating our veggies and all. I think the low-fat people get fooled sometimes into thinking that Low Fat means free for all (can you say Snackwell?)... once I remember my Mom called me up and said she found some "fat free" strawberry shortcakes and ate like six of them or something. She wanted me to be so proud of her and I was like "uhhhh... Mom...."

Where was I? and okay sometimes the low carb people freak out over "high - GI" veggies like carrots or tomatoes. Give me a break. Nobody got fat eating carrots.

Know what I mean?

But you really do have the perfect blend on this blog and you are proving all those myths about "long-term" wrong.

3/08/2007 7:33 AM  
Anonymous Clinton Walker III said...

The only thing that works is exercise and a balance diet. Anything that is quick and easy will have temporary results.

4/07/2008 3:28 PM  
Blogger Jimmy Moore said...

Clinton, I would only add to what you said a "reduced-carb" balanced diet.

4/07/2008 4:04 PM  

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