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Eco-Atkins -- like regular Atkins, but without food that used to be cute

June 18, 2009 | 12:53 pm

Soybeans If those low-carb diets are too meat-reliant -- or if you're worried about your LDL cholesterol levels -- consider the Eco-Atkins. It's similar to the traditional Atkins diet, but minus the animal products. Yep -- vegetarian.

All that meat in the typical low-carb, high-protein diet still makes some doctors leery, as it turns out. So although Atkins-like diets have been found to reduce insulin resistance and raise HDL, or good, cholesterol, the diets cause some concern because they haven't done much for LDL, or bad, cholesterol levels. At the same time, doctors have been hard-pressed to deny such diets' effectiveness for weight loss, at least in the short term.

So researchers in a new study decided to replace the animal proteins in a low-carb, high-protein diet with vegetable proteins.

In a study of 47 overweight people, researchers at St. Michael's Hospital in Canada put half of the participants on a variation  of the Atkins diet (i.e. the Eco-Atkins) and some on a more traditional vegetarian regimen.
Like its forebear, the Eco-Atkins diet was low-carb, but the specifics vary dramatically. In the newer version:

* 31% of calories came from vegetable protein (in order of reliance: gluten, soy, fruits and vegetables, nuts and cereals).

* 43% of calories came from fats (again, in order of reliance: nuts, vegetable oils, soy products, avocado, cereals, fruits and vegetables and seitan products).

* 26% of the calories came from carbs.

The other diet was a high-carbohydrate, low-fat, lacto-ovo diet (dairy and eggs allowed). Carbs made up  58% of the calories, with fats accounting for 25% and protein 16%.

Both diets provided significantly fewer calories than its participants likely would have preferred -- 60% of estimated calorie requirements.

So, not surprisingly, both groups lost weight.

But the folks on the Eco-Atkins diet had greater reductions in LDL and total cholesterol than did the folks in the higher-carb diet.

The abstract of the study, published June 8 in the Archives of Internal Medicine, reaches this conclusion:

A low-carbohydrate plant-based diet has lipid-lowering advantages over a high-carbohydrate, low-fat weight-loss diet in improving heart disease risk factors not seen with conventional low-fat diets with animal products.

Fairly enough, the Low Carb Diets Blog takes issue with the diet used as a comparison:

They could have compared a regular mixed low-carb diet to a vegan or vegetarian low-carb diet. Or compare a high-carb vegan diet to a low-carb vegan diet, where the food sources for the various macronutrients were similar, and only the proportions varied. As it is, the reasons for the results are already being questioned in various media ("It's the soy!" "No, it's the fiber!") as well as in the conclusions written by the authors themselves.

Meanwhile, there's this from Life Begins at 31:

I love that vegetarianism is becoming more mainstream, but I wish that people would just call it what it is and stop trying to put cute names on it to mask it.

But it seems hard to deny there's some potential in this eating plan...

--Tami Dennis

Photo: Soybeans are the friend of vegan dieters. In this study, however, gluten was a better friend. Credit: Kari Goodnough / Bloomberg News