Over the years, thousands of people have turned to the Atkins dietary strategy of reduced sugar and carbohydrates for its demonstrated ability to help people lose weight and keep it off. But in the last decade, emerging research has shown over and over again, that the Atkins diet can actually accomplish even more than that. Studies have shown improvements in cholesterol ratios, lowered inflammatory markers, dramatically improved triglyceride readings and improvement in both insulin sensitivity and glucose control. Now a new study adds to this significant body of research and demonstrates the effectiveness of the Atkins diet for improving measures of a very serious condition called Metabolic Syndrome.
In case you’re not familiar with Metabolic Syndrome, it’s a constellation of symptoms that puts you at significantly increased risk for both heart disease and diabetes. Metabolic Syndrome is characterized by a group of metabolic risk factors that tend to cluster together: high blood pressure (130/85 or higher), abdominal obesity, high triglycerides (150 or higher), low HDL cholesterol (below 40 for men, below 50 for women), high fasting blood sugar (over 110) and inflammation.
As it turns out, these are precisely the symptoms that are most favorably affected by carbohydrate restriction!
Jeff Volek, RD, PhD, Stephen Phinney, PhD and their research team took 40 people with high triglycerides and low HDL cholesterol and divided them into two groups. One group was put on a standard “low-fat” diet and one group was put on a “low-carb” diet. Both groups consumed the identical amount of calories- the only thing different was the proportion of calories from fat, protein and carbs. Those on the low-carb diet actually ate the equivalent of an Atkins Induction Phase- carbs were purposely kept low enough (10% of calories) to produce a low level of ketosis, which was monitored daily using urine strips.
“Despite similar reductions in calories, weight loss in the low-carb group was on average twice as great as in the low-fat group”, said the researchers. In fact 9 of the 20 people in the low-carb group lost 10% of their starting weight, more than all of the subjects in the low-fat group. Abdominal fat- one of the central features of metabolic syndrome- also decreased more in the low-carb group.
But let’s remember, this study was not just about weight loss.
When it came to improving the conditions of Metabolic Syndrome, the low-carb diet was the clear winner. The carb-restricted dieters saw a significant reduction in fasting blood sugar and fasting insulin. They had a huge reduction in triglycerides compared to the low-fat group (51% vs. 19%). Whereas 12 of the 20 low-carb dieters showed a greater than 10% increase in HDL (“good”) cholesterol, only 2 of the 20 low-fat dieters achieved this improvement.
“A diet restricted in carbohydrate can provide a more comprehensive improvement in the clinical risk factors associated with Metabolic Syndrome than a low-fat diet at reduced calorie intake”, concluded the researchers.
This excellent study , showing that the Atkins Nutritional program of reduced carbohydrate consumption not only leads to weight loss, but also improves a variety of measures that are associated with metabolic syndrome, heart disease and diabetes.