Michael van Straten
Michael van Straten

The Atkins Diet

Fact Ė the Atkins Diet is bad for your health. Raised cholesterol, high blood pressure and kidney damage are amongst the worrying side effects of this unhealthy weight loss plan. I was concerned about high protein, low carbohydrate diets when his book appeared 12 years ago and even more so when I interviewed the late Dr. Atkins for my LBC radio show on publication of his new book. He believed the scientific world was out of step with him and that his theories were correct, safe and effective. Atkins said his main concern was weight loss and he wasnít worried about potential health risks.

It only needed a clutch of celebrity women and acres of media coverage to persuade the general public to make the doctorís book an instant bestseller. Last winter Atkins slipped on the ice, fractured his skull and died, which of course is extremely sad, but itís also sad that his diet didnít die with him and he wonít be around to see the long term damage which is likely to affect some of his followers.

American kidney specialists have already issued a warning about the permanent, irreversible damage this high protein diet can do to the kidneys. The American Medical Association has advised doctors that unless they point out the risks of the diet, they could be legally liable if patients develop side effects.

Now Dr. Susan Jebb, a leading UK expert from the Human Nutrition Research Centre at Cambridge, says that it is negligent to advise any overweight person to follow this diet. Dr. Jebb states that the whole basis of the book is pseudo-science, the long term effects of doing it are not known but there is sufficient information to warn that this diet is dangerous. Following Dr. Atkins means eating huge amounts of meat and other high fat protein foods and cutting out virtually all cereals like bread, pasta, rice and beans. Also excluded are many of the vegetables which contain carbohydrates.

Most people eat more protein than they need and far more animal fat than is good for the heart and arteries. Rapid weight loss mobilises the bodyís stores of fat which, with the increased fat in the diet can mean a dramatic rise in blood cholesterol, and increased deposits of fat in the arteries. This causes a sudden increase in blood pressure, a reduction of blood supply to the heart muscle and serious risk of heart attacks. Weíve already seen one 16 year old American girl have a fatal heart attack while on the Atkins diet. Although itís not yet certain that the diet caused the heart attack, added to the other dangerous side effects it should be one more nail in the coffin of the Atkins diet.

Osteoporosis is now reaching epidemic proportions in the UK causing hip, spine and other fractures and a life of pain and disability. No longer just a disease of old age, we are now seeing it in younger and younger women, and men get it too. A diet excessively high in protein, especially combined with a low intake of calcium, is a major cause of this crippling illness Ė yet another reason why no woman should ever do the Atkins diet.

My analysis of a young manís food intake whilst following the Atkins diet reveals nearly three times more protein, almost twice as much fat, and three times as much saturated fat as recommended. When it comes to essential nutrients thereís only a quarter of the fibre, a third of the calcium, half the magnesium, two thirds of the potassium and 40% of the vitamin E needed daily to ensure good health. Thereís no magic pill, bullet or diet that achieves long term weight loss. Twelve months after Atkins, dieters had put back just as much weight as those following other weight loss plans. A mixed balanced diet, a few less calories and a bit more exercise is all you need. Two slices of bread and butter a day less and an extra 15 minutes walk and youíll lose a pound a week.

The Atkins diet flies in the face of accepted healthy eating advice and my urgent plea to all of you is if you havenít tried it Ė donít, if you have Ė donít do it again, and if you are actually doing it Ė stop right now. Your future health depends on it.


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