Atkins Diet is Massive Health Risk Says Expert

August 12, 2000
The Evening Standard (London)
by Mark Prigg

THE Atkins diet is today denounced by a leading scientist as a “pseudo science” posing a massive health risk.

Described as “nutritionally incomplete”, the diet, believed to have around two million followers in Britain, was singled out as the worst of the fad diets.

Nutritionist Dr Susan Jebb said: “Fad diets in general prey on the overweight, offering quick fixes and psychological tricks.

However, I see no medical benefit at all in them, and in particular from the Atkins diet.

“Obesity is a massive problem in the UK, but this is not the way to solve it. There is no scientific evidence that the Atkins regime is good for us. Of course in the short term it works, but in the short term any diet that reduces calorific intake will work.”

Dr Jebb, head of nutrition at the Medical Research Council Human Nutrition Research Centre, was addressing a summer briefing at the Royal Institute designed to curb the huge public interest in fad diets and highlight their associated health risks.

“The Atkins diet is a massive health risk for people - it’s simply medically very unsound,” she added.

She pointed out that many carbohydrates, outlawed by fad diets, are extremely good for the body. “The gut, in particular, needs a lot of carbohydrate and fibre, which is cut out of these diets,” she added. “That can impair its ability to work well, and people are putting themselves at risk if they don’t eat a lot of fibre and some carbohydrate.”

Dr Jebb believes one of the problems with all fad diets is that it is not usually the morbidly obese following them. She said: “It’s usually the slightly overweight doing these diets, and that’s a real problem.

“They run the risk of losing muscle instead of fat, which can be extremely dangerous. I also feel strongly that these diets are giving people false hope. We put on weight over a long period, so we have to lose it over a long time as well.

“There is no way to lose a stone in a few weeks without putting your health at risk.

You have to do this over time, when you notice you are gaining weight.

Your first goal should always be not to gain any more weight, rather than deciding you instantly need to shed all your excess weight.”

A lack of vitamins and minerals was also raised, with the restrictive fad diets often resulting in a small selection of food being allowed.

Dr Jebb said: “People tend to restrict themselves far more than normal on these diets, and that isn’t good. A variety of foods is essential for us to function healthily.”

Fad diets were also described as dangerous by leading psychologist Dr Jane Ogden, a reader in health psychology at King’s College in London.

She believes fad diets prey on our wishes to be told what to do. “The problem with most medical advice is that it’s a bit wishy-washy,” she said.

“People are told to cut down on this, eat healthily and it doesn’t really mean anything to them.

“What fad diets do is tell them in black and white what they can and can’t do, and people identify with that. It’s almost as if they have someone to blame for their craving, making it easier to deal with as it’s not their fault.”

Dr Ogden also believes most people struggle with conventional diets because they are boring. “An awful lot of work goes into something like the Atkins diet to make the menus interesting,” she added.

“Diet food, in general, tends to be quite unpalatable to us. There is also the feeling we are missing out on a lot, especially treats.”