‘Atkins is best diet around, says Stanford University.’ Apparently, though I
am sure that many scientists looking at the study in any sort of detail might
wonder how Stanford’s nutritionists have managed to reach this conclusion.
A few years ago, when the Atkins craze was at its height, a number of studies
commissioned to test out some of the more popular diets in something resembling
a scientific study. Given that studies have to be designed, human guinea pigs
need to be recruited, the study performed over as long a period as funding will
allow and the results have to be collected and analysed…not to mention the
peer review process, it roughly about now that some of those papers should be
appearing. And…bingo! Stanford has come out in favour of Dr. Atkins.
This study, led by Christopher Gardner and published in the Journal of the
American Medical Association (JAMA), randomly assigned a total of 311
overweight, prenopausal women to one of four weight loss diets for twelve
months: the Atkins diet (very low carbohydrate), the Zone diet (40% carbs, 30%
protein, 30% fat), the LEARN diet (high carb, low fat) or the Ornish diet (very
high carb, very low fat). All subjects managed to lose weight, but on average,
those following the Atkins diet lost twice as much weight as the subjects on any
of the other diets. Although the group reported that a number of blood
parameters were also improved in the Atkins subjects, worryingly a deficiency in
various vitamins and minerals were not central to the discussion.
You can read the abstract of this paper at the Journal of the American
Medical Association, or see Christopher Gardner discussing his research on Stanford
University Medical School‘s own site.
Obvious questions about the long term health benefits or otherwise of any
diet arise, but one question that does pop into my head as a nutritionist
(non-practising, admittedly), rather than a medical scientist is this:
Aren’t these effects more attributable to the relatively high proportion of
the energy content being present in the form of protein, rather than their lack
I have elaborated on this somewhat in a report based around the work of
Margriet Westerterp-Plantenga at the University in Maastricht in the
Netherlands. You can find this in the In Brief and In Depth section of nutritionandfoodsciences.org.