Battle of the diets: Atkins wins

Low-fat food pyramid

Low-fat food pyramid

The Atkins diet may have just proved itself.

A study, out this week, found that among moderately obese people in Israel (mostly men), the Mediterranean diet and the low-carb Atkins like diet actually outperformed a low-fat diet at promoting weight loss over a two-year period.

The Mediterranean diet emphasizes fish, sources of “good” fat like olive oil and nuts, veggies, and whole grains. The low-carb diet set limits for carbohydrates but none for calories or fat, dieters in the study were urged to choose vegetarian sources of fat and protein. The low-fat diet allowed no more than 30 percent of daily calories from fat.

Mediterranean food pyramid

Mediterranean food pyramid

The participants were employees of a nuclear research center in Israel. Lunch is the biggest meal of the day in Israel, and the participants all ate lunch at the center’s cafeteria daily. That allowed the researchers to offer them lunch options that made it easier to stick to their diets. For breakfast and dinner, the dieters were counseled on how to stick to their eating plans and were asked to fill out questionnaires on what they ate. During this two-year period around 85% of the 322 people in the study stuck with their diets.

The less-than-great news is that none of the diets produced huge weight loss: Among the people in the study, those assigned to the low-fat group lost the least, about 6.4 pounds, while the Mediterranean diet group lost an average of 9.7 pounds and the low-carbers lost 10.4 pounds.

Atkins (low-carb) food pyramid

Atkins (low-carb) food pyramid

Surprisingly the low-carb diet also excelled at improving the cholesterol profile, reducing the total cholesterol to HDL ratio by 20 percent, compared to 16 percent in the Mediterranean diet and 12 percent in the low-fat diet. The Mediterranean diet proved most effective against diabetes.


Some other interesting facts to note from the study:

  • Most of the weight loss occurs in the first 6 months, weight then increases and plateaus off.
  • 24 people (out of 109) abandoned the low-carb diet, 16 people (out of 109) abandoned the Mediterranean diet, and 10 people (out of 104) abandoned the low-fat diet.
  • The study was partially supported by the Veronica Atkins Research Foundation.

The study showed that the three diets produced similar improvements in things like liver function, cholesterol profiles and overall health. I think any one of these diets can help one’s health but without pairing it with exercise it really does not impact ones life significantly. No quick fixes exist, in the end activity will always remain the leading weight loss solution.

The journal article in its entirety.


47 thoughts on “Battle of the diets: Atkins wins

  1. Dr Barry L Marks

    Very exciting! I have long held that a low carb-moderate to high protein lifestyle is the way to go. The Med. Diet is my personal favorite and the one I advocate for my patients.

  2. Pingback: Diet Debate… More Proof « HealthyBeyondReason

  3. DR

    Two other things I noticed about this study:

    1. Participants on the low-fat diet were eating 30% of their calories as fat. Pritikin (the low-fat diet guru) recommends 10% fat in his diet.

    2. The Atkins participants were encouraged to eat fat and protein from vegetable sources. This sounds more like a Paleolithic / caveman Diet than Atkins

  4. bentlyr Post author

    You bring up some excellent points…

    They should not have referred to it as purely low-fat diet rather an American Heart Association recommended diet (I believe that’s where they got the 30%).

    As for your other point, I agree. It isn’t even close to a true Atkins diet… the only aspect that made it similar was limiting of carbs.

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  10. Dawn

    It would be interesting to find out why they abandond the low carb diet. I was on one years ago, was lossing weight and feeling great, but because of social presure from family, friends and my doctor went back to the so called healthy diet, which made me feel horrible, and did not help with weight loss, even with fat cut down to 10 grams a day, fiber at 50 grams and calories 1200. Often I would gain. I have always got regular exercise.
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