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Tuesday, April 10, 2007

The Atkins Paradox?

I found this lovely article by Chris Wanjek today. As you can imagine, that article made me shake my head in disgust. He is so far off-base, repeating the standard party line that I had to send him the following email:

I have to disagree with you regarding your column on "The Atkins Paradox". First, I have to make it known that I find it hilarious that whenever a high fat diet shows weight loss, it's a paradox. We have The Atkins Paradox, The French Paradox, and The Inuit Paradox. There's always something to explain it away. Genetics (ha!), red wine (HA!), or some other ad hoc hypothesis. One day people will realize that the paradox is that our so-called nutritionists ignored reality for so long and advocated a low-fat diet. Second, you mention some cad eating a package of bologna and washing it down with a Diet Coke as being on the Atkins Diet. He may be following the letter of the law, but he's certainly not following the spirit. Dr. Atkins focused on meat and vegetables, not pork rinds and artificial sweeteners. I bet Dr. Ornish wouldn't agree that fat-free Twinkies are a good food choice, even though they fall into the macronutrient guidelines of his diet. Of course, he won't stop that from letting him attack Dr. Atkins. In fact, I bet someone following a proper Atkins diet eats far more vegetables than someone following the standard American diet. Perhaps you should better acquaint yourself with what Dr. Atkins really preached. Have you even read The Atkins Diet? And then there's the ad hominem attack on Dr. Atkins about his fall on ice. When you can't attack the science, attack the person - is that how it works? You can surely do better than that.

You mention the "mountains of data" supporting the saturated fat/heart disease myth. I urge you to read The Great Cholesterol Con by Anthony Colpo. You'll see just how much selective science has been used to create the government guidelines. It goes against everything you've been taught. Perhaps it'll open your eyes to the facts: saturated fat isn't a killer and cholesterol isn't a killer. Do you know why it's hard to get to 10% fat on the Ornish Diet? It's unnatural! The human body is designed to run on fat for a majority of the time. Fat stimulates the hormones that suppress appetite as does protein. Carbohydrates, on the other hand, do not. There is a reason people associate a low fat diet with starvation; they are always hungry due to the lack of fat and protein.

You mention that humans have been eating a carbohydrate-based diet for the last few millenia, but what about the hundreds of thousands of years before the advent of agriculture? What did hunter-gatherer humans eat up until about 10,000 years ago? I'll give you a hint: it wasn't a plant-based diet. Grains weren't available in any quantity and the caloric cost of processing them to be edible ( i.e., to reduce their antinutrient content) was higher than the calories garnered from them. It wasn't until we figured out how to grow large quantities of grains that we were able to turn to a carbohydrate-based diet. Think about it logically: plant matter is seasonal; animal food is not. Humans EVOLVED on a diet based on animal products - meat, organs, fat, and bone marrow - and somehow they weren't keeling over from heart disease and cancer. The one year-round staple food before the global distribution network that we enjoy today was meat. Meat of all kinds. And I guarantee you that hunter-gatherers weren't picking up the nearest sharp rock to trim the fat. In fact, they relished the organs and fat more than anything. Check out The Weston A. Price Foundation and Dr. Loren Cordain's The Paleo Diet for a good look into the diet that humans evolved on.

I would absolutely love to see you support this statement with some facts: "Country by country, populations become obese when they adopt an American diet high in animal fat and simple sugars." Quite frankly, it is bunk. First, check the archeological records and see that human health began to suffer when we adopted a (drum roll) grain-based diet. Height suffered, dental health suffered, and population boomed. A high carbohydrate, grain-based diet is good for population growth, but not for human health. Second, I would argue that the obesity epidemic began after the USDA Food Pyramid which focuses on grains, grains, and grains to the exclusion of meat and fat. In fact, the paradox here is that we're told by the goverment that we should eat more grains, a food which MUST be processed, over fruits and vegetables, which can be picked fresh off a tree or from the ground and eaten right on the spot. Our biggest problem isn't meat consumption; it's food product consumption. Too many people focus on food products rather than on food. If it comes in a colorful box, it's a food product. If it can be killed with a stick or dug from the ground, it's food.

Chris, please stop repeating the standard party line of "eat less fat," "animal foods are bad for you," and "Dr. Ornish knows all". Open your mind and do some research beyond what the media reports. This week they love low-carb because it's a story that sells. Next week they'll hate it because it'll be a story that sells. It's unfortunate that Live Science is buying into that, pushing a vegetarian diet and vilifying that which has never been given a fair shake anyway. Note that Ancel Keys' cholesterol hypothesis, on which the saturated fat tripe is based, was flawed from the beginning. He selected only the data that proved what he wanted to prove, discarding the other two-thirds of the data that proved his hypothesis to be nothing but a cloud of smoke.

The biggest problem with The Atkins Diet isn't the diet itself, but the way that most people implement it with using low-carb this and low-carb that, rather than going for the foods on the original low-carb diet: meat, vegetables, nuts, fruit, and tubers. And here's the irony: if people would simply eat foods that don't come with a Nutrition Facts label and a list of health claims, they would likely be eating the right things. Macronutrient content matters little if you're eating meat, vegetables, nuts, fruit, and tubers. The body will naturally regulate intake with nutrient-dense, satiating foods. Eat from the above five groups of whole, natural foods and Atkins, Ornish, Sears, et al will be out of business. Of course, so will all of the nutritionists...keeping us confused about what to eat is good for business, even if it's not good for our waistlines.

I could continue debunking the nutrition information on Live Science's site, but I think I have continued long enough.


I am awaiting his response and will let you know if I get one.