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American Heart Association View of the Atkins and Zone Diets
April 18th, 2010

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Dear John,

In The Food Revolution, you are critical of the Atkins, Zone, and other high-protein diets, saying that they increase heart disease risk. Has the American Heart Association had anything to say about these diets?

Fred

Dear Fred,

Yes, they have, and it’s not what Atkins, Sears, and the other authors of these diets want to hear.

A few months ago, the American Heart Association published an advisory in the leading medical journal Circulation warning the public about the dangers of high-protein diets. “They put people at risk for heart disease and we’re really concerned about this,” said Robert H. Eckel, M.D., senior author of the paper, and chairman of the American Heart Association’s Nutrition Committee. “These diets will raise the…bad cholesterol and increase the risk for cardiovascular disease, particularly heart attacks.”

Eckel, who is professor of medicine at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center, commented specifically on the Atkins diet, the Zone, Protein Power, Sugar Busters, and the Stillman diet. He said that people do often lose weight on these diets, temporarily, and as they shed pounds their overall cholesterol levels often drop, temporarily. “But what I see after people have lost weight on such a diet, then their weight stabilizes for a period of weeks or months and often the cholesterol, particularly the bad cholesterol, now becomes more elevated… Many people’s LDL cholesterol (the bad cholesterol) goes up if they remain on the diet after they’ve successfully lost the weight.”

The Atkins diet is the most popular of the high-protein diets, partially because Atkins claims that his diet lowers cholesterol and lowers heart disease risk.

“You want my response to Atkins saying that his diet can lower your cholesterol and do all sorts of good things for your heart,” asks Judith Stern, professor of nutrition and internal medicine at the University of California at Davis. “You know what my response is? Bull—-!”

Fortunately, there are far healthier ways to lose weight. People who eat plant-based diets centered on whole grains, vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds and legumes tend to be dramatically slimmer than those whose diets incorporate significant amounts of animal products. And, as the American Heart Association has often noted, they also have far lower rates of heart disease.

Thanks for asking.

John

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