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Study says Atkins diet is best; others doubt it

July 17, 2008 |  9:52 am

A study comparing three popular diets -- the low-carbohydrate Atkins diet, the Mediterranean diet that is rich in fish and nuts, and a low-fat diet recommended by the American Heart Assn. -- has found that the Atkins and Mediterranean led to a slightly greater weight loss than the low-fat diet. The differences between the three groups of dieters, who were studied for two years, was slight. The Atkins dieters lost an average of 12 pounds compared to an average of 10 pounds for the Mediterranean dieters and an average of 7.3 pounds for the low-fat dieters. People on the high-protein Atkins diet also experienced greater improvements in their HDL cholesterol. The study was published today in the New England Journal of Medicine.

But don't expect all nutritionists and doctors to get behind the high-protein-diet trend. The study's credibility is a tad shaky considering it was funded in part by the Atkins Foundation.

Moreover, the American Heart Assn. released a statement this morning standing by its long-time recommendation that cutting fat in the diet is the optimal way to achieve good health and weight loss.

"The American Heart Association doesn't recommend high-protein diets for weight loss," the statement reads in part. "Some of these diets restrict healthful foods that provide essential nutrients and don't provide the variety of foods needed to adequately meet nutritional needs. People who stay on these diets very long may not get enough vitamins and minerals and face other potential health risks."

The AHA notes that more research is needed on whether weight loss achieved through high-protein diets can be sustained. The statement also suggests that high-carbohydrate diets featuring fruits, vegetables, nonfat dairy products and grains has been shown to reduce high blood pressure.

It's hard to imagine a day when the AHA will support high-protein diets over low-fat diets. Today is definitely not that day. See the story in The Times about the comparison of low-fat and high-protein diets. Read the AHA statement on high-protein diets.

-- Shari Roan