New Atkins Diet – but is the change really an improvement?

The Atkins Diet, popularly known as a low-carb diet that accommodates a deluxe cheeseburger as long as it is served without the bun and fries — has been revamped in “The New Atkins For a New You.”

The book, developed by Atkins Nutritionals, Inc., recycles some of the advice in what has become a diet industry first kicked off by 1972′s “Dr. Atkins’ Diet Revolution” by Dr. Robert Atkins, who died in 2003.

But the new volume includes more emphasis on getting carbohydrates from vegetables, coping with some of the initial travails of beginning the diet, and tips for keeping on the diet when traveling.

The authors also break the diet into four phases with different eating patterns, an effort to help overcome the difficulty most dieters face when trying to stay on one eating plan for over the long haul.

“You should not be bored on Atkins. That just means you’re not being very creative,” Dr. Eric Westman, director of the Duke Lifestyle Medicine Clinic and one of the book’s authors, told ABCNews.com.

Westman said that while many have focused on the low levels of carbohydrates allowed on the Atkins diet (20 grams, or roughly one and a third slices of bread) that is actually just for the first phase of the diet, which lasts for about two weeks and is not necessary for everyone, depending on metabolism.

While people on the diet often feel fatigued or get a headache during that period, he said they are now encouraged to counter that with extra salt, acknowledging that this advice may go against some current recommendations.

While people with a heart condition must be aware of their salt intake, said Westman, “For the vast majority of people, you don’t have to limit that salt anymore.”

The extra salt recommendation is due to concern over what lower levels of carbohydrates might do to the body.

“If you lower the insulin in the blood enough, then your kidneys don’t retain the sodium that you’re used to,” said Westman.

 “Friendlier” Atkins May Not Be a Better One

But the new diet is being met with skepticism by some experts.

“I call it a kinder, gentler Atkins,” said Keith-Thomas Ayoob, director of the nutrition clinic at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine. “I’m not saying the diet wouldn’t help somebody lose weight, but I try to go for the long term and…[Atkins] isn’t a diet I would recommend somebody stay on.”

One problem Ayoob cited was that even in later phases of the diet, the 120-gram daily maximum of carbohydrates only meets the minimum recommended dietary standard of the Institute of Medicine.

Ayoob also pointed out the diet’s cost and wastefulness, such as one of the book’s recipes that calls for making chicken broth using a whole chicken for flavoring and then discarding the meat.

The new Atkins also calls for nutritional supplements, as a signal of the diet’s potential shortcomings, he said. “The diet requires a number of supplements. Why? Because the diet isn’t adequate,” he said.

Atkins has been popular because it allows people to eat many of the high-fat foods they crave, Ayoob added, but a good long-term diet should put more emphasis on eating whole grains and less fat.

“It’s very seductive…especially to a lot of people trying to lose weight,” he said of the Atkins. “It’s also a big business; it’s a brand.”

Ayoob said that while people trying to lose weight on Atkins might fare better in the short term, they may not stick with it.

Westman acknowledged that the Atkins diet may not work for everyone, but said many of the misperceptions about the diet may contribute to that.

For example, he said, the 20-gram limit on carbohydrates in the early phase of the diet should be met with the four to five servings of vegetables typically recommended.

Common Ground

While the Atkins diet remains controversial, some points on a good diet are more widely accepted.

“The common themes of all of these diets is that you stay away from the refined sugars and starches,” said Westman. “The processed food industry over the last 10 to 30 years has distorted what a normal diet should be.”

The key is finding a diet that works over the long haul.

“You have to figure yourself to an eating pattern you can comply with,” said Dr. George Blackburn, the chair of nutrition medicine at Harvard Medical School. “What works is something you can comply with minimally one year, ideally two years, and for health purposes, for a lifetime.”

He said it will take time before we know whether the rebooted Atkins diet can help people meet that goal.

“Rather than making claims for the modern or old Atkins diet, until you can find a way for people to be compliant, it’s hard to make claims for it,” he said.

Until then, he said, Atkins is one of many diets being considered for its possible value.

“Promoting one diet, we’re just not doing that anymore. You’re talking about an era that’s long past. Rather than have weight-loss diets, we’re trying to have healthy diets.”

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