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One of the leading health problems in America is obesity. Americans are consuming
fast food at an all time high and it is not only showing on our waistlines but deteriorating
the heart as well. A new revolution transpired when Robert Atkins coined the Atkins
Diet. Atkins was based on the elimination of enriched flour and carbohydrates that may
harm the body for a guaranteed fast weight loss. Though Atkins brought results,
it may have also brought serious health side effects that were undetected until recently.
The purpose of this essay is to examine the controversy among leading scholars and
doctors concerning the validity of the iniquitous Atkins Diet.
Atkins received his medical degree from prestigious Cornell University; he
continued his higher education specializing in cardiology (Ward and Yoakman 21). In
1972 Atkins published his first book, Dr. Atkins' Diet Revolutions, which exposed
the dangers of a carbohydrate diet (21). The book was finally released
in bookstores in 1992 where is remained on the New York Times bestseller list for over
three years (21). Atkins passed away in 2003;nevertheless, he left behind a legendary diet
that will have an enduring effect on many lives.
According to Elizabeth M. Ward and Linda R. Yoakman, authors of the recognized
book The Low-Carb Bible; Atkins suggests that the best way to control ones' metabolism
is to eat a very low-carbohydrate diet (21). The Atkins Diet approach requires no calorie
or portion counting but rather choosing acceptable foods, steering clear of most
carbohydrates. The diet exists in four phases: the Introduction phase to the diet lasts from
two to six weeks, depending on how much weight one wants to shed. In this phase the
dieter is limited to 20 grams of carbohydrates a day, about the amount of one cup of fresh
blueberries (21). The Ongoing Weight Lost phase is next and lasts from two weeks to
two months and allows five grams of carbs to a weekly diet. Accredited in the book by
Ward and Yoakman this phase helps maintain steady weight loss, however if the weight
plateaus Atkins suggests to cut back on the carbohydrates again until desired weight loss
is reached for that phase (21). The third phase is the Pre-Maintenance phase. During this
period, which lasts a few weeks to a couple of months, the dieter adds ten grams of
carbohydrates to their diet per week. The dieters' goal is to discover their personal
Critical Carbohydrate Level; these are the quantity of carbohydrates one can intake to
facilitate their present weight. The final phase is the Lifetime Maintenance phase. This
phase is the achievement of the Atkins Diet, if one prefers to continue the diet they do so
with the amount of carbs they are consuming in this period. The Atkins Diet contains the
lowest amount of carbohydrates allowed to intake; moreover Atkins advises the dieter
take a bountiful computation of supplements to balance out the absence of much needed
nutrients. The foremost concern that is debated among various doctors and scholars is
whether or not this is the proper way of dieting. The absence of carbohydrates may make
the dieter feels fatigued moreover making dieters eat too much protein to overcompensate
for the lack of carbs, thus clogging their arteries.
Dean Ornish, who is founder and president of Preventive Medicine Research
Institute and clinical professor of medicine at the University of California San Francisco,
agrees with Atkins on the diagnosis of the need of Americans to eat more complex
carbohydrates (Ornish 538). However, the two doctors disagreed in the prescription for
society to do so. Ornish suggests a more evidence-based diet by substituting simple
carbohydrates to complex carbohydrates that should include fruits, vegetables, soy
products, and whole grains (538). "In addition to high fiber, these complex
carbohydrates and whole foods are rich in phytochemicals, bioflavonoids, carotenoids,
retinols, surforaphanes, isoflavones, and polyphenols and other substances that may
reduce the risk of many chronic disease" (538). In contrast, the Atkins Diet is high
in disease-promoting substances and low in protective essence. Ornish strongly
advises diets that promote such a high protein and fatty intake. The Zone Diet and South
Beach Diet are also high protein diets that emphasize consumption of meat, eggs and
butter but are not as detrimental as Atkins.
Kathy Goodwin is an author on the Diet Channel website who is in
agreement with Ornish in disapproval of the Atkins Diet. The simple addition of
supplements, which is imperative while on Atkins, cannot replace required
carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are necessary in the breaking down of food; the body also
uses carbs for energy. Atkins could cause serious side effects; Goodwin suggests that the
restricting of calories is what causes weight loss, not the eradication of carbohydrates.
Kevin Vigilante and Mary Flynn co-authored the book Low Fat Lies that
divulges the harsh truths of low fat and low carbohydrate diets. Vigilante and Flynn have
deemed the most adequate weight loss technique lies in the eradicating of calories, not
carbohydrates (Vigilante, and Flynn 113). "Carbohydrates account for almost fifty
percent of the calories in an average person's diet; "If you suddenly eliminate fifty
percent of your calories it would be difficult to compensate for that loss"(113). Vigilante
and Flynn observe diets such as the Zone and Atkins in terms of calories, not
carbohydrates, proteins, or sugars. The authors' simplistic point of view makes complex
dieting seem straightforward.
In rigorous contrast to Ornish, Goodwin, Vigilante, and Flynn; Arne Astrup,
Thomas Meinert Larson and Angela Harper propose that a low carbohydrate diet is the
most proficient approach to losing weight. Astrup, Larsen, and Harper have conducted
randomized trials that have proven low carbohydrate diets are a more sufficient method
to rapid weight loss (Astrup, Larsen, and Harper 897). "Somewhat surprisingly, greater
improvements in some cardiovascular risk factors were seen in people on the low-
carbohydrate diet" (898). Astrup, Larsen, and Harper affirm that the most frequent side
effects of a low carbohydrate diet are those of constipation and headache (898). Moreover,
Astrup and his colleagues concur with a low carbohydrate diet, but do insist on additional
research to survey the long-term effects.
The debate over which form of diet will prevail will continue until ample evidence
supporting one side is reached. It is difficult to decipher which diet is paramount,
particularly when both diets demonstrate considerable weight loss. The Atkins Diet
provides it's most quantity of weight loss is in the first six months of dieting which
averages 15.7 pounds. However, after a year of dieting the final weight loss averages
only 9.7 pounds. Diets such as the Zone, Atkins, South Beach, and various forms of low
carbohydrate diets are the most difficult in keeping. The carbohydrate limiting diets
allocate for a minimal array of assorted foods, this makes weight loss decrease over time.
Overall dieters need to become aware of all risks that could take place in their bodies
before they start a specific diet. Dieters are easily fooled by initial weight loss and might
continue a dangerous diet unknowingly, making it imperative for research to continue in
search of a safe, effective diet.
Arthur Agatston, author of the prominent South Beach Diet book and diet designed
the admired diet as an alternative to Atkins. Agatston is in strong incongruity with the
Atkins Diet, and believes carbohydrates should be divided into two separate groups, the
good and the bad. Agatston suggests that the banning of all carbs actually makes one
hungrier and leaves the dieter to exist on only proteins. The proteins the dieter is then
faced with are high in fat, such as bacon, eggs, non-low fat cheese, red meat, and butter
(Agatston 10). "These are, as most people know, the bad fats-the ones that can lead to
cardiovascular disease, heart attack, and stroke" (10). Incongruously, Atkins
died from cardiovascular failure, leaving scholars to inquire the integrity of the Atkins
Diet and the serious long-term results. The South Beach Diet offers three phases, similar
to Atkins. Phase one is the strictest plan on the diet; it entails the first two weeks of the
diet and denies all carbohydrates of any kind (111). During this phase one is
predicted to loose from eight to thirteen pounds. Egg white substitutes, Canadian or
turkey bacon, green vegetables, and lean meats reign supreme in this phase. The second
phase of the diet is the more tolerant version of the diet (183). In this phase the
dieter is allowed to include carbohydrates in the diet, only the good ones of course. Fruit,
whole-wheat grain, sugar free candy, yogurt, and London boil are permissible until
targeted goal weight is achieved. "Phase three is the most liberal stage of the diet-by now
it is simply one important aspect of a healthy lifestyle rather than a weight-loss program"
(243). This phase is a free thinking period where the dieter is able to decide
what is best for their specific body type and continue the eating habits they have chosen
According to Agatston, The South Beach Diet seems to be a sagacious compromise to
The Atkins Diet. Agatston's book over The South Beach Diet is very detailed making the
text uncomplicated to read for those wanting to loose weight the healthy way. The book
also includes a day-to-day meal plan along with recipes from world-renowned chefs that
can be prepared in a standard kitchen.
In assertive deviation with the scholars previously mentioned, Yvonne Tapper-
Gardzina, Nancy Contugna, and Connie E. Vickery have their own distinct opinion on all
low-carbohydrate, high protein diets. Gardzina, Contugna, and Vickery co-authored
"Should You Recommend a Low Carb, High Protein Diet?" claim that promoters of
popular diets often have medical degrees making them seem knowledgeable; when in fact
most diet designers make crude generalizations about complicated biochemical reactions
and support their claims by extracting data out of context. "The public remains largely
uneducated on diet safety concerns. In the absence of sufficient research about long-term
effects of diet-programs, you may have difficulty advising patients about the diet's
positive or negative health impact" (Gardzina, Contugna, and Vickery 52). Although each
of the above diets differ in specific construction they all contain higher than
recommended protein utilization.
Low-carbohydrate diets are heavily debated, making the demand for more testing
even greater. Jennifer Marks, author of "The Weighty Issue of Low- Carb Diets, or Is the
Carbohydrate the Enemy?" corresponds with Gardzina, Contugna, and Vickery stating:
"There is no clear evidence to support severe restriction of dietary carbohydrate as
promoting either long-term health or weight reduction. All carbohydrates are not the
same" (Marks 156).
There is a general consensus among all of the scholars given, Atkins works. The
Atkins Diet provides significant, rapid weight loss, however, the debate lies in the
constant consumption of proteins, which was claimed to clog arteries and promote heart
disease. As a result, more research should be completed to better equip dieters with the
proper approach to healthy eating.
Agatston, Arthur. The South Beach Diet. New York: Random House, 2003.
Astrup, Arne, Thomas Meinert Larsen, and Angela Harper. "Atkins and Other Low-
Carbohydrate Diets: Hoax or An Effective Tool for Weight Loss?" The Lancet
364.9437 (2004): 897-99.
Goodwin, Kathy. The Atkins Diet-A Comprehensive Analysis. 9 Aug. 2004. 2004. 22
Feb. 2005 <http://www.thedietchannel.com/atkins.htm>.
Marks, Jennifer B. "The Weighty Issue of Low-Carb Diets, or Is The Carbohydrate the
Enemy?" Clinical Diabetes 22.4 (2004): 155-56.
Ornish, Dean. "Was Dr. Atkins Right?" Journal of the Dietetic Association 104.4 (2004):
Tapper- Gardzina, Yvonne, Nancy Cotugna, and Connie E. Vickery. "Should You Recommend a Low-Carb, High-Protein Diet?" Nurse Practitioner Apr.2002:
Vigilante, Kevin, and Mary Flynn. Low Fat Lies. DC: LifeLine P, 1999.
Ward, Elizabeth M., and Linda R. Yoakman. The Low-Carb Bible. Illinois: Publications
International, LTD, 2003.
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