Friday January 23, 2004

BBC Horizons: The Atkins Diet

Primetime BBC Television's Horizon ran a programme on The Atkins Diet last night with the tag line: "Horizon reveals the truth about the world's most controversial diet."

(When discussing the BBC, I figure I should spell like the BBC :-)

I recommend reading the entire transcript, but if you don't want to take the time, here are the three parts I found most interesting.


NARRATOR: Faced with this contradiction Foster and Westman decided science had to face Dr Atkins head on. It was time to put the diet to the test. Westman went back to basics. Surely a diet that professed you could eat limitless food would make you fat not thin? So he decided to look in to Dr Atkins’s claim that you really did lose weight. A hundred and twenty dieters were recruited. Half were put on strict low calorie. The other half were put on the Atkins diet and told to eat as much as they wanted.

Dr ERIC WESTMAN: We didn’t expect that the diet would do very well. We weren’t really expecting to find much weight loss at all. It was also a very extreme diet so that we thought people would have difficulty staying on it.

NARRATOR: After six months of research the results were ready. They were not what Dr Westman was expecting. The Atkins dieters had indeed lost weight.

Dr ERIC WESTMAN: Even though you say nothing about calories, in fact you say you can eat as many calories as you want, people lost weight on the Atkins diet.

NARRATOR: And they hadn’t just lost a few pounds, they’d lost twice as much as those on the low calorie diet. Not only did the Atkins diet actually work it was the hands down winner. It seemed you really could get thin without worrying about calories. But there remained the other unresolved issue. The scientists’ biggest criticism of the diet was that the high fat would lead to high cholesterol which would clog the arteries and kill. Back in Pennsylvania Gary Foster embarked on a study to find out if the Atkins diet really did increase the risk of heart attack.

Dr GARY FOSTER: We fully expected that this would be a quick and dirty study. We would show that cholesterol would actually get much worse. It would be the first and last study of the Atkins diet.

NARRATOR: But when Foster sifted through the data he too couldn’t believe his eyes.

Dr GARY FOSTER: My first reaction was could this be, this doesn’t make a lot of sense. Not only were there no bad effects of the diet in terms of cholesterol, but actually there were quite positive ones.

NARRATOR: In other words despite the fears about eating lots of fat it looked as if the Atkins diet might not be bad for the heart after all.

Dr GARY FOSTER: You actually had about a tenfold improvement in cholesterol compared to a low fat, low calories diet.



NARRATOR: None of the volunteers knew which type of food they were getting. But half of them were eating low fat meals, and half were eating high fat meals.

Dr SUSAN JEBB: What we told them is they could eat as much or as little as they wanted and they simply just had to ask when they wanted more food.

NARRATOR: If fat was the magic ingredient that switches appetite off, then the men eating the high fat food would fewer calories than normal to feel full. After four hundred and eighty six meals the results were clear. The fat was having the exact opposite effect. The men on the high fat food needed more calories to satisfy their appetite. They were actually overeating.

Dr SUSAN JEBB: What we conclude from that is that fat doesn’t make people feel full. It doesn’t trigger the sense of fullness and satiety that we believe is fundamental to appetite control.



NARRATOR: When they looked more closely it was clear which group had lost so much weight. it was the group eating a diet high in protein. And the shopping lists revealed why.

Prof ARNE ASTRUP: We could see from the data that the reason why the high protein group had lost more weight was because they had actually consumed fewer calories throughout the study, despite the fact that they had just as the same free access to all the foods they really want to, to eat.

NARRATOR: At last the mystery of how the Atkins diet works may have been solved. It might have nothing to do with calories being lost. Probably nothing to do with ketosis. And apparently nothing to do with burning more calories. Neither does it seem to be due to gorging on fats. The secret to the diets success may be down to something completely different. Protein makes you feel full. Increasing the amount of protein in the diet may control appetite and make people eat less than they would normally. If this research goes on to be confirmed it will be a major advance for science.

Now you can go read what I didn't pull out ;-)

BBC Horizons: The Atkins Diet ( in category Special Interests ) - posted at Fri, 23 Jan, 08:17 Pacific | «e»