Has Dr. Atkins come back from the grave?
A backpedaling of opinion on the link between diets high in fat and the onset of diseases such as obesity, diabetes and hypertension has led doctors to revisit carbohydrates in the battle of the bulge.
Researchers are taking a closer look at the carb-crazed Standard American Diet and its deleterious effects on our health. A 12-week study tested overweight or obese adults with metabolic syndrome by limiting them to a daily 1,500-calorie diet. Half were given diets considered either low-fat/high-carb or vice versa, with the fat being 12 grams on the low side and 40 grams for the high-fat/low-carb group. At the study's conclusion, the high-fat group showed a marked improvement in heart disease triggers (called triglycerides), dropping nearly 50 percent, and healthy cholesterol levels increased nearly 15 percent, versus the low-fat group who saw no change in cholesterol levels and only a 20 percent decrease in triglycerides.
Fat became the known enemy 30 years ago when a government supported low-fat message was delivered to Americans. Everything from salad dressings to breakfast cereal boasted low-fat claims on packaging, but Americans have become larger, less healthy, and more depressed in the last three decades than any other time in human history.
Fat, especially high-cholesterol animal fats and hydrogenated oils were long believed to cause weight gain, and too much of anything can certainly do the trick, but just like the body needs carbs, it needs fats too. Americans passed on eating fats, even healthy ones, loading on carbs instead - from breads, pastas, sugar, soda and more sugar, with corresponding expansive waistlines.
But with decades of fat phobia ingrained in American culture and widespread carb-heavy foods, it is difficult to move away from our low fat/high carb diet. That is, until the low-carb diet guru Dr. Atkins came along, whose results spoke for themselves in millions of formerly Puffy Americans who lost weight rapidly by eliminating carbs and opting for a high-fat/high protein diet. Carbohydrates, Atkins noted, are the fastest metabolizing foods; it's why athletes and active people can eat large amounts and never seem to gain weight. Though individual metabolism plays a part in how quickly the body can use carbs, the excess will store as fat so the body can access it at another time. And with new research now showing this cycle can put pressure on the pancreas leading to type II diabetes and other serious illnesses, the markers pointing to a fresh, whole food diet seem stronger than ever.
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Photo: Howard N2GOT courtesy of Creative Commons