November 15, 2004
by Rebecca Jenkins
THE Atkins diet is more likely to cause bad breath, constipation and headaches than other diets.
And the low-carbohydrate, high-protein regime, favoured by celebrities, offers no magic formula for weight loss, Australian experts warn. Flinders University Associate Professor in Public Health, John Coveney, says the diet might work for short-term weight loss.
But over 12 months, it is no more effective than a low-fat diet, and health risks about its long-term use are unknown.
“The Atkins diet is not a magic formula,” he said.
“The evidence seems to show that in the long-term - around a year - it’s not more successful than a low-fat diet. It does appear to have a more dramatic weight loss in the short-term.”
Professor Coveney has co-authored a report in this week’s Medical Journal of Australia, with Associate Professor Malcolm Riley of Monash University.
They have suggested long-term use of the Atkins diet could have negative effects on a person’s cardiovascular system, kidney function and bone health.
Celebrities including Jennifer Aniston, Calista Flockhart and Geri Halliwell have been linked to the diet, which was first published more than 30 years ago.
It works on the premise that cutting back on carbohydrates stops the body producing too much insulin. High insulin levels are said to cause uncontrolled hunger and eating, and too much insulin causes the body to store fat.
However, Professor Coveney said the diet seems to work in the short-term for much simpler reasons.
“Because you are encouraged to eat high protein foods - they satisfy you for far longer,” he said.
”(But) it works particularly because people are eating fewer calories because of the restrictions and possibly because of the satiety.” Professor Coveney said trials of the diet had been carried out on people in good health, leaving question marks about the effects on people with chronic illness or the young and elderly on the diet for a long time.
He recommended people who wanted to lose weight should eat a variety of foods, cut back on their calorie intake and undertake regular exercise.
“When you get fads like the Atkins, it can divert people’s attention from really important and very basic solutions to weight control,” he said.
Dietitians Association of Australia state spokeswoman Tania Ferraretto agreed with the advice.
She said diets such as the Atkins don’t work and can make people fatter over time.
Instead, anyone looking to lose weight should aim to change to a sensible exercise and eating regime they could safely follow for life.