So fine, maybe calories, not carbohydrates, are to blame for our obesity epidemic, and maybe Atkins’ claims, as described by one of the world’s leading obesity researchers, are “the most unutterable nonsense I ever saw in my life.” So what if it’s just a low calorie diet in disguise? It’s still a low calorie diet where one can eat all the (albeit bunless) bacon cheeseburgers you want. So what’s the problem?
The immediate concern centers on the state of ketosis. Pregnant women are the most at risk. Based on detailed data from 55,000 pregnancies, acetone and other ketones may cause brain damage in the fetus, which may result in the baby being born mentally retarded. The fact that ketones seemed to cause “significant neurological impairment” and an average loss of about 10 IQ points was well known and aroused “considerable concern” years before Atkins published his first book. Atkins nonetheless wrote. “I recommend this diet to all my pregnant patients.”
After enough pressure from the AMA, Atkins finally relented. “There’s one other point I’m very sorry about,” Atkins finally admitted, “I now understand that ketosis during pregnancy could result in fetal damage. My pregnant patients have never had this problem, but I realize I didn’t study enough cases to validate my recommendation. If anyone wants a retraction, I’ll be glad to give one.”
Subsequently at the congressional hearing on fad diets, however, when asked by Senator George McGovern if he had made a public retraction of his reckless recommendation, Atkins replied, “No; I will stand by the statement I made in the book… I have recommended it for use by the pregnant woman with the observation of the managing obstetrician or physician…” After the Senate Select Committee hearings, the publisher added a small print disclaimer on the copyright page in the front of the book.
Highlighting Atkins’ recommendation of his diet even during pregnancy, one nutrition textbook reads “Proponents of the low carbohydrate diet have been extraordinarily irresponsible in ignoring these hazards.” The tobacco industry similarly denied smoking was harmful during pregnancy. “The woman who goes on a ketogenic diet [like Atkins] for six months of pregnancy,” noted one fetal specialist, “is playing Russian roulette.”