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Tag: Atkins diet

Why I’m Not A Fan of the Paleo Diet

I cheered when I read the recent Washington Post article dissin’ the Paleo Diet! Finally, a voice of reason and sanity to refute those who still believe that the Paleo Diet is the healthiest way to eat.HumanEvolution

While I totally agree that we did not evolve to eat refined, highly-processed, or chemically-laden foods, we didn’t really evolve to be “healthy,” either.

“Natural selection really only cares about one thing, and that’s reproductive success,” points out the author of The Story of the Human Body: Evolution, Health, and Disease, Harvard University professor of human evolutionary biology Daniel Lieberman.

Stone-age humans rarely lived many years beyond reproductive age, and I think we can all recognize that it is generally easier to feel healthier with less attention to nutrition in a young and forgiving body than with one in middle-age.

Additionally, since early humans lived in many ecosystems with many different foods available, there really was not one single “diet” available to everyone. We have survived because we are omnivores and could find sustenance from a wide range of sources. Lieberman notes that there is evidence to show that hunter-gatherers in the Middle East ate barley – a direct refutation of the premise of the Paleo recommendations of a grain-free diet.

My feeling is that the Paleo Diet is simply a re-hashing of the Atkin’s Diet, The South Beach Diet, and other low-carb diet fads from our recent past. Not only are these diets difficult to sustain over the long term, but they are simply not engineered to produce vibrant health.

My advice about the Paleo diet: If you are really looking to be healthier, skip this fad and focus on eating whole foods and avoiding chemicals and toxins.

Are Low-Fat Diets the Healthiest Way To Go?

Are low-fat diets the healthiest way to go and does following a low-fat eating plan offer the best chance for weight loss?

Research says a resounding “No!”

Do I hear a collective gasp? I know, I know: it is heresy to assert that “low-fat” is not the baseline of healthy eating!

The low-fat mantra emerged in the 1980s with the publication of a series of reports on diet and cancer by the National Academy of Sciences. Thirty years later it is accepted as gospel.

Only it has been proven wrong, as explained by one of the original co-authors of those reports, T. Colin Campbell, PhD, and the real answer to achieving health is found not in low-fat dietary regimens but in a diet rich in plant-based foods and low in animal products and processed foods. In the Huffington Post he writes:

“During the next 10 years when this low fat myth was growing, average percent dietary fat barely changed — maybe decreasing a couple percentage points to about 33 percent, at best. In reality, the amount of fat consumed INCREASED because total calorie consumption also increased. Furthermore, during this same period of low fat mythology (1980s-1990s), obesity incidence increased.

Now, enter Robert Atkins and other writers who argued that obesity was increasing because of our switch to low fat diets. By going low fat — so the mythical story went — we were consuming more carbohydrate, an energy source from plant-based foods. This was a serious misrepresentation of the facts.

By falsely blaming low fat, ‘high carb’ diets for the obesity crisis, these writers were then free to promote the opposite: high fat, low ‘carb’, high cholesterol and high protein diets rich in animal-based foods, a so-called low ‘carb’ diet. During the initial discussions of this ‘low carb’ diet, no distinction was made between the refined carbohydrates (sugar and white flour as commonly present in processed foods) and the natural carbohydrates almost exclusively present in plant-based foods.”

Fascinating stuff. I’ve always been against the health implications of the Atkin’s diet and other low-carb weight-loss approaches.

But, to be honest, I bought into the low-fat concept early. In the 80s we thought an optimum meal was a bagel with no butter or cream cheese – a fat-free, guilt free snack, I thought, though not as good for my body or my figure as I had hoped, as it turns out.

And even though I now shy away from anything labeled “low-fat” or “fat-free” due to suspicions about what is added in place of fat to maintain flavor and creaminess (remember those fat-free potato chips that had a side effect of anal leakage?), I still believed that a diet low in overall fat was better.

But now let’s refine this to say: a diet low in saturated fat is better.  I now know better and advocate that our diet be high in unsaturated fats as they help rebuild and repair your nervous system, keep your hair and skin shiny and elastic, and help keep everything lubed and in working order.

Mostly, I love it that mainstream science is embracing what Michael Pollan summed up so elequently in his revolutionary manifesto:

“Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”

How does the Atkins Diet hold up after 2 years?

A study just released showed that participants in a 2-year weight loss study lost an average of 10.3 lbs. while following the Atkins low-carb diet. This was a eensy-weensy bit more than the participants following a Mediterranean diet (lost 10 lbs. average) and the ones on a low-fat diet (lost 6.5 lbs.).

While the Dr. Robert C. and Veronica Atkins Foundation is hailing these results as vindication of the Atkins approach, it’s worth a closer look. First of all, they should be jumping for joy because they funded the study, although the study is published in the New England Journal of Medicine and is enjoying widespread acceptance in the academic medical community.

But was it truly measuring the Atkins Diet as is popularly practiced? The Associated Press reports that although the Atkins participants had limits for carbs while there were none for calories or fat, “it did urge dieters to choose vegetarian sources of fat and protein.”

Hmmmm… Those I know who have followed the Atkins diet seem to interpret the rules as carte blanche to eat meat all the time. And eat a lot of meat they do. Since even vegetables are restricted in the Atkins world, I wonder if most Atkins followers understand that to mean that they should get their protein — and the majority of their calories — from meat or other non-vegetarian products.

In my limited experience, I’ve seen Atkins followers regularly swallow down 4 or 5 hot dogs at a sitting (no buns, of course), consume meat at every meal, and eat huge amounts of eggs and cheese on a regular basis. These do not seem like “vegetarian sources of fat and protein to me.

While the researchers measured weight loss and cholesterol levels, they did not look at overall health. While the stomach can digest protein more easily when it’s not eaten with carbs, the body needs carbohydrates to provide us with energy and other life-sustaining forces.

And you know what I think about measuring health based on cholesterol levels! Don’t even get me started there.

A body flooded with protein becomes hyper-acidic (Atkins suggests testing your urine to check for ketosis, a sign that your body is out of balance) and the excess acid will start breaking down other tissues in a chemical reaction. This is a seriously unhealthy state that can lead to other problems down the road.

My uncle, who practiced Atkins in this manner for about 20 years, was recently striken with scleraderma, a severe and uncomfortable auto-immune condition whereby the skin hardens from the extremities inward. Because Atkins doesn’t focus on overall health, my uncle felt comfortable with his 6-a-day Diet Coke routine not interfering with is weight loss goals. Makes you wonder if this kind of unhealthy diet had anything to do with his affliction.

Sometimes it’s worth taking a look behind the headlines to see what they really mean. The Mediterranean diet in the study empasized poultry, fish, olive oil and nuts, and those participants were only .3 lbs away from the Atkins followers after 2 years. I’ll be they’re a lot healthier, too.