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Meat, eggs and cheese: Protein diets remain popular

September 7, 1999
Web posted at: 6:02 p.m. EDT (2202 GMT)

From Medical Correspondent Linda Ciampa

(CNN) -- It was 1972. Richard Nixon was president, U.S. involvement in Vietnam was winding down, and protein diets were all the rage.

Almost 30 years later, one of the pioneers in protein diets, Dr. Robert Atkins, is back. His book, like the original, claims you can lose weight by eating unlimited amounts of meat, eggs and cheese.

"Dr. Atkins' New Diet Revolution" is topping best-seller lists along with a book called "Protein Power" by Michael R. Eades with Mary Dan Eades.

Greg Elko is on a protein diet. Instead of a bagel for breakfast, he now eats a higher-fat, higher-protein meal of bacon and eggs.

"I lost about 20 to 25 pounds in the first month," he said.

Atkins says his diet book works because limiting carbohydrates such as pasta, bread and cereal forces the body to burn fat.

"So it's not that it needs to be low-calorie; as long as you cut out the carbohydrate, the weight loss is automatic," he says.

Even so, the American Dietetic Association gives the protein diets poor grades.

"The weight loss comes primarily from water, but then you shift into mobilizing fat that's in your storage. But you also burn up muscle, and the body protein can be in the form of muscle -- your heart muscle," says Kathleen Zelman of the American Dietetic Association.

Most mainstream dietitians say steak, bacon and eggs have their place in the diet -- just not all the time. They say too much protein can tax the kidneys; and fat found in meat is linked to heart disease.

There is concern that restricting carbohydrates, which means not only grains but most fruits and vegetables, can result in nutrient deficiencies.

"While you take a supplement to replace certain nutrients, you can't replace them all," Zelman says.

Atkins dismisses the criticism. He says he's helped thousands of people not only lose weight but reverse diabetes and lower cholesterol.

After three decades, his book and ideas remain as popular as they are controversial.

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