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Dietitians warn of low-carbo diet dangers

NEW YORK, Oct 19 (Reuters Health) - Individuals who stick to the high-fat, high-protein, low-carbohydrate diets such as the popular 'Atkins Diet' may risk long-term health problems, according to the American Dietetic Association (ADA). The ADA is a professional organization representing the nation's licensed nutritionists and dietitians.

"You might be setting yourself up for (health) problems down the road," explained ADA spokesperson Dr. Chris Rosenbloom in an interview with Reuters Health.

The Atkins Diet, and others like it, trigger short-term weight loss through a process called ketosis. Ketosis occurs whenever the body lacks a sufficient supply of carbohydrates, a prime source of energy. During ketosis, carbohydrate-depleted metabolisms turn to other sources, including ketones from stored fat or protein, to satisfy daily energy needs.

"So you do lose weight," Rosenbloom said. "The first bit of weight loss is water weight, the carbohydrate that's in your muscles, and then as you progress on the diet you will lose some fat, but you will lose some muscle mass."

However, she notes that "in my 25 years as a dietitian, I've never met anyone who's kept the weight off." She said boredom with the no-carbohydrate regimen (which eliminates breads and pastas and "starchy" fruits and vegetables) usually causes dieters to abandon the diet, at which point "they gain all the weight back -- and more."

Rosenbloom and the ADA believe that this type of diet can have a negative long-term impact on health. "It's so high in cholesterol and fat and total fat -- the opposite of what all the health organizations, from the American Heart Association to the American Dietetic Association, recommend," Rosenbloom pointed out. And she noted that the diet "is also low in fruits and vegetables and whole grains" -- foods with proven health benefits. While some of the vitamins and minerals in these foods can be obtained through supplements, other benefits -- like fiber or phytochemicals -- can only be found at the source.

The Atkins Diet first gained popularity during the 1970s, when Dr. Robert C. Atkins published his bestselling "Dr. Atkins' Diet Revolution." In an article entitled "Answering the Critics," published on the Atkins Center website (www.atkinscenter.com), Center representatives note that over 60,000 clients enrolled at their New York City location have experienced the "beneficial effects" of the diet, including weight loss, "improved blood pressure, lower cholesterol, and a lower or completely eradicated dependence on prescription drugs." They also stress that the diet does not involve the elimination of all carbohydrates -- just those "that tend to spike blood sugar levels the most."

However, Rosenbloom suggests that individuals concerned with weight loss consult a professional nutritionist or dietitian, who can "individualize a plan that works best for (the dieter's) lifestyle." And Rosenbloom stressed that "any program that doesn't incorporate exercise is doomed to failure."

By E. J. Mundell

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