September 22, 2003
Daily Mail (London)
by Sean Poulter
FOOD watchdogs have issued the first official health warning over diets such as the Atkins amid claims that high- fat regimes can kill.
The Food Standards Agency is highlighting increased risks of cancer, heart disease and obesity from diets which favour fat over bread and cereals.
In a statement published on its website the agency, which is responsible for all the Government’s nutritional guidance, does not actually name the Atkins diet.
Instead, it advises against any eating plan which involves cutting down on starchy foods high in carbohydrates.
Atkins has been tried by more than 3million people in Britain and its success has triggered a boom in sales of cheese, eggs and red meat.
However, the diet calls into question the credibility of the Government’s healthy eating advice.
Nutritionists at the FSA have been in talks with the Department of Health, where experts have raised fears about the huge takeup of low carbohydrate diets.
FSA board member Robert Rees, a chef, said: ‘The Government’s healthy eating messages are being clouded by Atkins.
‘My understanding is that we have had one death in America linked to Atkins.
If that is proven, then it is one death too many.’ He was referring to a 16-year-old Missouri girl weighing 17 stone whose family say she died from heart failure after following Atkins. Atkins Nutritionals Inc, the company behind the diet, has denied the link.
Last month, experts at the Government-funded Medical Research Council said followers could suffer kidney damage and bone loss. There are also concerns of a link to diabetes and that the bodies of followers are low in vital vitamins and minerals.
The creator of the diet, American doctor Robert Atkins, believed carbohydrates such as bread, pasta, rice and starchy vegetables over-stimulated the production of insulin, resulting in hunger and weight gain.
Atkins rules allow followers to eat liberal quantities of food high in protein and fats, particularly the saturated fats in animal and dairy products.
However, the official Government line is that these fats are linked to the high cholesterol and furring of the arteries which cause heart disease, strokes and heart attacks.
In the early stages of Atkins, dieters are advised against eating large amounts of fruit and vegetables, but policy in Britain is to encourage people to eat five portions a day.
On the website, senior FSA nutritionist Sam Church says carbohydrates are an ‘essential’ part of a healthy balanced diet.
‘Cutting out starchy foods, or any food group, can be bad for your health because you could be missing out on a range of nutrients.
‘This type of diet also tends to be unrealistic and dull, and not palatable enough to be tolerated for a long time.’ The advice warns that low-carbohydratesdiets ‘tend to be high in fat’ leading to the risk of heart disease, diabetes and cancer.
It states: ‘High-fat diets are also associated with obesity, which is currently increasing in the UK.
‘People who are obese are more likely to develop conditions such as diabetes and some cancers.’
Ministers are thought to have been behind the moves to issue the warning but wanted to distance themselves from it for fear of being accused of running a ‘nanny state’.
A spokesman for Atkins Nutritionals said research shows the consumption of large amounts of carbohydrates with a highglycaemic index, such as white bread, white rice or white potatoes, were likely to increase the risk of heart disease.
She said: ‘At all stages of Atkins, we encourage consumption of nutrient-dense foods including plenty of vegetables, with the introduction of fruits and wholegrains later in the programme as one approaches ideal weight.’
Those on the diet are also advised to take fibre supplements and vitamin and mineral tablets.