Tuesday, July 22, 2003

Lose pounds, gain stones

Is the Atkins diet safe? According to a report in The Times (London), the Atkins diet can increase your risk of kidney stones. The diet is based on the near-elimination of carbohydrates, leading to a diet high in protein and fat. On top of that, some of the vegetables encouraged on the diet are high in oxylates, which further encourage the formation of kidney stones. Dr Bill Robertson, a clinical biochemist at the Institute of Urology and Nephrology at University College Medical School in London, is quoted as saying, ĎIf I was designing an experiment to make people form kidney stones, Iíd put them on the Atkins dietí. There is also evidence that high-protein diets may exacerbate problems with kidney function.

The Atkins diet seems to run counter to everything we have been told in the past twenty years or so about our diets. It is relatively high in fat, especially saturated fat; it removes high-fibre, complex carbohydrates; and it bans many of the fruits and vegetables we are told we should be eating. No wonder that orthodox nutritionists are up in arms about it.

The truth is that humans have a remarkable capacity to eat just about anything and survive quite happily. Thus, it is possible for people on diets high in meat and fats to live just as healthily as others who refuse meat altogether. For any fad diet, you can find medical evidence for and against. For example, there have been studies which suggest that the Atkins diet could be beneficial in relation to lowering cholesterol levels with a possible knock-on effect on cardiovascular disease. What is worth bearing in mind is that most of these studies are small, often choose obese subjects who are not typical of the population (but are willing to try anything to lose weight), and may have high dropout rates.

As for losing weight, it is quite likely that any diet which imposes arbitrary rules to reduce your food intake would work. The best approach is probably to trust your own judgement on what is an appropriate diet for you. If you want to lose weight, and a fad diet works for you, then why not?

The biggest risk from the Atkins diet is boredom. Itís not just that you might get bored with what you eat. If you become a born-again Atkins fanatic, youíre quite likely to bore your friends to death talking about it.

Atkins dieters may lose one stone to gain another, The Times, 21 July 2003

Celebrity diet 'safe and effective', BBC News, 22 May 2003

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