Where Atkins Deserved Credit

Once, when Dr. Dean Ornish was being interviewed on Dateline NBC, his interviewer swore that he had lost 50 pounds on an Atkins Diet, ate a steak every day, and felt great. He asked Ornish, “How bad could it be?” When Ornish turned the tables and questioned the host, it came out that, before going on Atkins, the guy seemed to be living off french fries, fried onion rings, cheesecake, and at least five soft drinks per day, everyday. He had since cut all those out and started exercising religiously. Ornish pointed out that the reason he’s now feeling better was probably in spite of the steak, not because of it.[429]

The Atkins Director of Education and Research is convinced that “Researchers at Harvard and elsewhere have made it plain that trans fatty acids have been a killer since the 1930s…”[530] Funny then that the 1972 Dr. Atkins Diet Revolution recommended “unlimited” quantities of vegetable shortening,[430] the single the most concentrated source of trans fatty acids in the food supply.[531]

The Atkins Corporation tries to paint Dr. Atkins as a “Pioneer and Innovator.”[532] Though it was “plain” that trans fats were a killer “since the 1930s” it took Dr. Atkins until the 1980’s before he flip-flopped and finally took a position against trans fats.[533]

Indeed, just cutting out deep fried foods (most often fried in 100% vegetable–and 100% hydrogenated–oil) from one’s diet should alone improve one’s cholesterol profile.[1152] Atkins also encouraged everyone to cut out caffeine, eat more heart-healthy nuts and omega-3 fatty acids and does consider daily exercise a critical “non-negotiable” component to his plan.[431]

Anyone completely cutting out sugary soda, pastries, ice cream, cookies, cake, candy, kids’ cereals, and Snackwells is probably going to feel better. But does one need a 300-page diet book to tell us that? Anything that can give Krispy Kreme’s corporate profits that glazed look[432] is a good thing for America’s health.

For those who don’t remember, Snackwells were Nabisco’s line of low-fat and fat-free junk food that went from zero to a billion dollars in revenues in four short years, in effect becoming America’s most popular cookie. When Snackwells’ fat-free Devil’s Food Cookie Cakes first appeared, demand was so high that Nabisco had to ration them out to stores and fights broke out, forcing store managers to keep boxes of the cookie under lock and key.[433]

People were mistaking low-fat for low-calorie. The intention of the government’s recommendation to cut down on fat was to get people to cut down on items like meat and switch to foods that are naturally low in fat–like beans, whole grains, fruits and vegetables. These don’t have much of a profit margin though, so the food industry took advantage of the new guidelines to market low-fat junk food like Snackwells cookies, swapping fat for sugar. Each cookie was basically just white flour, no fiber and two spoonfuls of sugar. Even bags of jellybeans started boasting “fat-free.” A similar phenomenon is now happening with low carb junk food. A new Atkins-friendly ice cream, for example, has almost twice the calories of regular ice cream (and of course twice the fat).[434] “It’s Snackwells all over again,” noted one WebMD Medical News article.[435] Junk food–low fat or low carb–is still junk food.

People also may feel better on the Atkins Diet because he tells people to stop drinking cow’s milk. Most people on the planet are lactose intolerant (and may not even know it).[437] That change alone should make a segment of the people trying Atkins feel better. In addition to those who are lactose intolerant, other easy born-again Atkins converts might be those with an actual dairy allergy or the one out of every few hundred Americans who is allergic to wheat.[438]

Even at his strictest, Atkins “allowed” two small salads a day. Although they can only be a cup of “loosely” packed greens each, that’s sadly more salad than many non-Atkins Americans may get. Then again, Atkins’ “spinach salad” recipe calls for an entire pound of bacon and 5 eggs. No croutons, of course–“use crumbled fried pork rinds instead.”[439]

Atkins even recommended eating one’s greens organic, dark, and leafy,[440] although the word “kale” does not seem to frequent the book sleeve. Unfortunately, people may ignore the few reasonable suggestions that Atkins made, and just use his low carb phenomenon as an excuse to eat whatever they want.