The Atkins Diet: Part I

That Horizon Programme
Well the health news item of the week just has to be BBC2’s Horizon programme on Thursday night. It was all about that most fashionable of diets, The Atkins Diet.

It was one of the most interesting and well-made television programmes on a health issue that I’ve ever seen. That it was all about one of the most fashionable and controversial diets in history made it all that more fascinating and worthy of devoting at least two columns to.

Let’s begin by looking the Atkins Diet. Dr Robert Atkins, a cardiologist, introduced the world to a very interesting way of eating that would allow you to eat as much as you want without putting on weight. You would also lose weight if you stopped your normal way of eating and switched over to the Atkins way of eating.

Basically the diet encouraged you to eat as much protein and fat as you want but to decrease drastically the amount of carbohydrates in your daily diet. ‘Carbohydrates are the enemy’ was the aphorism on everybody’s lips. Many doctors were appalled by the recommended high fat diet as it would increase everyone’s cholesterol levels. Studies showed that it did not and they also showed that people put on a high protein diet definitely did lose weight. People trying to prove the diet didn’t work were confounded with the results of their own studies that showed it did. But how did it work?

Meat and fat certainly contain calories – but Dr Atkins said that we could eat more or less as much as we want. So what happens to the calories? Some thought that the body had to ‘work harder’ to digest protein and used up calories. Some thought we were losing more calories in our urine. We do lose a few more but not nearly enough to explain the weight loss of people on this diet. So how on earth does it work?

How it works
Finally the men in white coats came up with a very clever study. They got large sets of volunteers to get free food at a specially-designed supermarket for a few months. One group got a normal diet with foods such as fruit, bread and other prohibited ‘inimical’ carbohydrates. And the other group got a very high protein diet. Guess who lost weight? The people on the high protein diet. But why? These guys in white coats were clever. They measured the calorific content of all the food consumed and came up with the simple answer that the people on the Atkins-like diet consumed LESS calories. The people eating the high protein diet simply consumed less food.

What does this mean?
A very high protein diet changes our metabolism in a big way and makes us feel less hungry. Therefore we consume fewer calories and lose weight. The huge misunderstanding about the diet is that we assumed that when it said ‘as much as you like’ in relation to protein foods we automatically assumed that people would gorge themselves. In fact they ate less. Why they did so and continue to do so remains a mystery – but one which is likely to be solved soon.

So do I recommend the Atkins Diet. No, I don’t and I’ll give my reasons next week. Be sure to read Part II next week.

Homeopathic Tip of the Week: Mosquito bites
Getting bitten by mosquitoes? Leaving beautiful England for a holiday in some place with insects that are after your blood? Well if you have to, at least take some homeopathic Ledum 6c with you. Take a dose twice a day for a few days for insect bites. You can also get a tincture of this medicine to put directly on the skin.