September 3, 2004
by John von Radowitz
The Atkins diet probably works because it is so boring, experts said today.
Danish researchers said the dullness of the diet was a likely explanation for why it helped people lose weight.
There was no evidence that cutting out most carbohydrates while stocking up on fatty foods and protein boosted energy expenditure, said the scientists.
But it could be that people on the diet simply chose to eat less because the choices they were left with were so unappealing.
The experts, led by Professor Arne Astrup, a nutrition expert from the Centre of Advanced Food Research at RVA University, Copenhagen, wrote in the Lancet medical journal: “The success of the low-carbohydrate diet might be due to the restriction of the variety of food choices - the monotony and simplicity of the diet could inhibit appetite and food intake.”
Another factor was that eating a lot of protein was especially likely to make a person feel “full”.
This might also reduce food intake and body weight.
In a review of previous studies, the researchers accepted that Atkins dieters lost body fat over a period of six months.
However, what caused the fat reduction was unclear.
The Atkins diet advocates free consumption of butter, fatty meat and high-fat dairy products while restricting carbohydrate consumption to less than 30 grams a day.
Three randomised trials have examined the long term effects of low carbohydrate diets.
In all three, overweight volunteers on Atkins-type diets lost more weight than those on low-fat diets after six months.
But two of the studies showed that by 12 months there was no difference between the two groups.
Prof Astrup’s team pointed out the low carbohydrate content of the Atkins diet was below the minimum needed to supply the brain and muscles with sugar.
Followers of the Atkins diet suffered from muscle cramp, diarrhoea, general weakness, and rashes more frequently than people on conventional low-fat diets.
The researchers said longer studies lasting up to two years were needed to assess the weight-loss efficiency of low carbohydrate diets.
In the meantime, they recommended that people who wanted to lose weight and stay slim should “switch to a diet reduced in calories and fat in combination with physical activity”.