Accusation 11: Engages in Selective Citation

A number of objectionable statements appear on the website regarding Atkins…

  • Cancer Risk. You selectively refer to articles to support your claim that the ANA [Atkins Diet] can increase the risk of cancer. Interestingly, this is something you accused Dr. Atkins of doing at page 6 of your site. In fact, studies you omit from your discussion contradict your conclusions.

The tobacco industry similarly accused former Surgeon General C. Everett Koop of “selective reporting” when he argued that smoking caused cancer.[871]

What does C. Everett Koop have to say about your diet? “People need to wake up to the reality,” the former U.S. Surgeon General C. Everett Koop wrote in December 2003, that the Atkins Diet is “unhealthy and can be dangerous.”[872]

The American Cancer Society also condemns both the products of the tobacco industry and the Atkins Corporation for their potential to cause cancer. “A low-carb diet,” they write in their official position paper, “can be a high-risk option when it comes to health.”[873]

Atkins Claims the Atkins Diet Could Prevent Colon Cancer

You seem to disagree with the American Cancer Society’s assessment. Dr. Atkins was asked, for example, if “a lot of red meat could cause colon cancer.” He replied that there was “very little evidence to support the viewpoint.” [878] On your official website, an Atkins co-author even states that “a controlled carbohydrate eating plan could be a valuable way to help prevent colorectal cancer.”[879]

Why then does the American Cancer Society say that “consumption of meat–especially red meats–has been linked to cancers at several sites, most notably colon and prostate?”[880] Is the American Cancer Society merely omitting studies that “contradict” their conclusion?

As documented in the Cancer section, studies at Harvard and elsewhere involving tens of thousands of women and men have shown that regular meat consumption may increase colon cancer risk as much as 300 percent.[881,882] As one Harvard School of Public Health researcher noted, because of its meat content, two years on the Atkins Diet “could initiate a cancer. It could show up as a polyp in 7 years and as colon cancer in ten.”[883]

So as to avoid the risk of selective citation, however, let us consult the latest reviews of the evidence. A review in 2002 concluded that the “preponderance” of evidence “suggests that minimizing red meat intake would result in decreased risk of this cancer [colorectal cancer].”[884] According to a consensus statement by some of the top cancer researchers in the world, red meat consumption may be related to prostate cancer as well.[885]

The only review since was published in 2004.[886] In direct contradiction to Dr. Atkins’ statement, researchers at Harvard, Oxford and the National Cancer Institute once again reviewed the available evidence and agreed that eating “a lot of red meat” probably does indeed increase one’s risk for colon and rectal cancer.[887]

Atkins Claims the Atkins Diet Could Prevent Breast Cancer Too

Your website also claims that “doing Atkins is the ideal way”[888] to control breast cancer risk. “A controlled carb way of eating almost automatically lowers your risk of breast cancer.”[889] Eating over a half cup of lard’s worth of saturated fat[890,891] every day is an “ideal way” to prevent breast cancer?

Your website claims “Saturated fat, the kind found in meat, butter, cheese and other animal foods as well as tropical oils, hasn’t been shown to have any effect on your risk of breast cancer–whether positive or negative.”[892] To support this claim the Atkins website cites an article published in 1997 which, upon review, doesn’t address the topic at all.[893]

Although your website claims that “At Atkins Nutritionals we pride ourselves on bringing you the most accurate, well-researched information on every topic we cover…,”[894] it seems that you are not, in fact, citing articles accurately.

The most comprehensive report ever published on diet and cancer in history, reviewing thousands of studies,[896] concluded that diets high in saturated fat were linked to breast cancer.[897] A re-review of the topic in 2003 came to the same conclusion.[898] And September 2004 brought us yet another systematic meta-analysis of published studies[899,900] which showed once again that saturated fat intake is indeed “associated with an increased risk of breast cancer.”[901]

Atkins Ignores Trans Fat in the Atkins Diet

Dr. Atkins was asked “Isn’t the consumption of fat related to cancer?” He replied “According to the multitude of studies published, fat per se was not linked to cancer, with the exception of trans fats, which are not included in the Atkins Nutritional Approach.”[902] This is incorrect on two counts. First of all, trans fats are not the only exception; saturated animal fat has been linked to cancers of the breast,[903] prostate,[904] endometrium,[905] lung,[906] and pancreas.[907] And second, trans fats are included throughout the Atkins Diet.

Trans fats are basically found only one place in nature, animal fat. The food industry, however, found a way to synthetically create these toxic fats by hardening vegetable oil in a process called hydrogenation, which rearranges their atoms to make them behave more like animal fats. Although most of America’s trans fat intake comes from processed foods containing partially-hydrogenated oils, a fifth of the trans fats American adults consume comes from animal products.[908]

According to the official National Nutrient Database, 5% of the fat in a burger is trans fat.[909] The fat in cheese averages 3% trans fat[910] and butter can be up to 7% trans fat.[911] Hot dog and turkey fat average about 4% trans fats, and the fat in pork rinds, described as the “secret manna of every Atkins dieter,”[912] is 1% trans fat.[913]

Is 1% a problem, though? The most prestigious scientific body in the United States, the National Academy of Science,[914] concluded that the only safe intake of trans fat is zero. In their report condemning trans fats they couldn’t even assign a Tolerable Upper Daily Limit of intake because “any incremental increase in trans fatty acid intake increase coronary heart disease risk.”[915]

Trans fats, according to the report, “are unavoidable on ordinary, non-vegan diets…” One of the authors of the report, a nutritional epidemiologist at the Harvard School of Public Health, explained why they didn’t recommend a vegan diet: “We can’t tell people to stop eating all meat and all dairy products,” he said. “Well, we could tell people to become vegetarians,” he added. “If we were truly basing this only on science, we would, but it is a bit extreme.”[916]

“Nevertheless,” the report concludes, “it is recommended that trans fatty acid consumption be as low as possible while consuming a nutritionally adequate diet.”[917] The Atkins Diet seems to accomplish neither.[851]

Atkins Was Fifty Years Behind Medical Science

The Atkins Director of Education and Research is convinced that “Researchers at Harvard and elsewhere have made it plain that trans fatty acids have been a killer since the 1930s…”[918] Yet the 1972 Dr. Atkins Diet Revolution recommended “unlimited” quantities of vegetable shortening,[919] the single the most concentrated source of trans fatty acids in the food supply.[920]

Dr. Atkins is painted as a “Pioneer and Innovator.”[921] Though it was “plain” that trans fats were a killer “since the 1930s” it took Dr. Atkins until the 1980’s before he finally took a position against them.[922]

Atkins “Best Evidence” Contradicts Their Position

“Does a high-fat diet cause breast cancer?” Your website responds: “Just the opposite–the right kinds of dietary fat may help prevent it. The best evidence for this comes from Harvard’s ongoing Nurses’ Health Study. In 1992 this long-running study of more than 100,000 women showed no connection between the amount or type of dietary fat they ate and their risk of getting breast cancer.”

We agree that the Harvard Nurses’ Health Studies represent the best evidence. It was, in fact, those very studies that showed in 2003 that young women with the highest intake of red meat and butterfat had over a 75% greater risk of developing breast cancer.[923]

It’s true that total fat consumption has not been convincingly linked to cancer risk, but this is because researchers weren’t taking into account the difference between animal fats and vegetable fats. There is evidence that some types of plant fat, like olive oil, may protect against breast cancer. So there are indeed “right kinds of dietary fat,” but the saturated fat pushed by Atkins is the wrong kind.[924]

In the Nurses’ Health Study that followed nearly 100,000 pre-menopausal women, Harvard researchers separated out the animal fat and found that pre-menopausal women who consumed the most saturated animal fat had a significantly greater chance of developing breast cancer. They conclude “Intake of animal fat, mainly from red meat and high-fat dairy foods, during pre-menopausal years is associated with an increased risk of breast cancer.”[923]

In a University of Cambridge study published the same week, researchers found that women reportedly eating 34 grams of saturated fat a day seemed to roughly double their breast cancer risk compared to women who ate only 11 grams of saturated fat.[925] Followers of your diet, as reported in a “Research Supporting Atkins” study on your website, eat as many as 67 grams of saturated fat a day.[926]

Dr. Atkins was asked “What is the relationship between excessive protein consumption and cancer?” He replied, “No one has ever demonstrated a relationship between excessive protein consumption and cancer.[927]

Once again, this is incorrect. Protein intake, particularly animal protein intake, has been linked to brain tumors,[928] breast cancer,[929] pancreatic cancer,[930] stomach cancer,[931] endometrial cancer,[932] kidney cancer,[933] laryngeal cancer,[934] esophageal cancer[935]–even lung cancer.[936] Excess animal protein has also been deemed an “aggressive” risk factor for colon cancer.[937]

Atkins Distorts Data Presented at a Conference

One of the questions addressed in the Frequently Asked Questions section of your website is “Doesn’t a high-fat diet increase cancer risk?” In your answer, you argue that there is no link between meat and colon cancer, and base your argument solely on preliminary, unpublished data from a single investigation described at a meeting that took place years ago.[938] Further, even that data was distorted.

The meeting was the European Conference on Nutrition and Cancer back in 2001, where the preliminary findings of the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer (EPIC) were presented. You claim that the findings “raised questions about the long-held belief that eating red meat or other animal-based foods can increase the risk of cancer.”[939]

We decided to look at the official account of that conference published by the World Health Organization in order to respond to your claims.[940]

Dr. Atkins said that “The European conference that studied the lifestyles of more than 500,000 individuals confirmed that there is not link [sic] between meat consumption and increased risk of colon and rectal cancer.”[941] To clarify, it was not more than 500,000 people, it was 472,000. More importantly, though, this is what the researchers actually said: “The meat-colorectal cancer association has been investigated by at least 34 case-control and 14 cohort studies, which collected information on various types of meat products. The overall results suggest that frequent consumption of red meat, mainly beef, veal, pork and lamb, is associated with a 20-40% increase in colorectal cancer risk…”[942]

True, the increase in colorectal cancer risk associated with red meat in the “very preliminary”[943] data from the EPIC study were “for the moment” not statistically significant, but as the investigators note, “As the follow-up is in progress, these first results should be interpreted with caution.”[944] This is what Atkins claimed “confirmed” that there was no link even though the very source he cited mentions almost 50 studies whose “overall results” show that there is a link. Therefore, the source you cite to support your claim, in fact, refutes it.

According to the study’s coordinator, chief of the nutrition division at the International Agency for Research on Cancer, those eating just 2 ounces of processed meat (like bacon or ham) a day had 50% greater risk of developing cancer of the colon or rectum.[945] Two ounces is just one jumbo hot dog.[946]

An independent review given at that same conference concluded “High intake of red meat, and particularly of processed meat, are associated with a moderate but significant increase in colorectal cancer risk and suggest that colorectal cancer incidence could be decreased by reducing red and processed meat intakes in populations where intake is high.”[947] This is in agreement with 2004 review published by one of the lead EPIC study investigators.[948]

Other independent research provided at the conference that you argue challenges the “long-held misconceptions about… animal products” found that those eating more than just 5.5 grams of fatty red meat a day (roughly a single teaspoon of ground beef)[949] seemed to have over twice the risk of developing colon or rectal cancer.[950] In an article entitled “Red meat could be as carcinogenic as tobacco,” Associated Press writer Emma Ross noted that new research presented at the conference indicated that eating red meat could raise the level of certain colon carcinogens as much as smoking does.[951]

According to the official account, what the EPIC study did show was that fruit consumption seemed to significantly protect against colon and rectal cancer[952] and the more fiber people ate, the lower their risk. Those eating just 25 grams of fiber a day seemed to cut their risk by about 40%.[953]

Atkins, on the other hand, once called fruit “poison.”[540] Fruit consumption alone, however, seems to protect one from numerous cancers[954] and may reduce heart disease mortality, cancer, and total mortality.[955] Even during later, more liberal phases of the diet, Atkins warned readers that eating fruit will “always” be “somewhat risky,”[956] when, in fact, the reverse may be true.