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Low-carb Craze: Is It Healthy Or Not?

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How many carbs did you consume today? An increasing number of Americans could probably answer that question off the top of their head these days as low-carb diets like the Atkins and South Beach plans have made carb counting an obsession with weight conscious individuals.

Although it is an established fact that severe carbohydrate restriction is effective as a means to dramatic and relatively quick weight loss, some doctors and nutritionists are sounding alarms on the negative health effects of excluding certain carb-rich foods from the diet. A number of studies have shown that regular consumption of whole grain foods, fruits and vegetables (all of which are high in carbohydrates) has been shown to lead to a decreased chance of suffering from heart disease, cancer, diabetes and a number of other dreaded conditions.

So yes, although wolfing down that fat-burger without the bun may allow you to drop pounds quickly without sacrificing taste, there is a dark side to the Atkins "miracle."

It's actually hard to believe this news would come as a surprise to anyone. It seems intuitively obvious that chugging down huge servings of fatty red meat while eschewing bread and produce couldn't possibly be a healthy way to go through life in the long term.

But that assessment may not be completely fair to Dr. Atkins and his disciples. People who studiously follow the Atkins plan do not completely eliminate fruits and vegetables from their diet. Leafy green vegetables and other high fiber produce are definitely part of the Atkins regimen and participants are encouraged to eat five servings of fruits and/or vegetables every day.

The real problem may lie with people who aren't completely following any doctor-recommended diet regimen but are following a grossly oversimplified version of the Atkins plan. I call this overly simplified diet regimen the Atkins-for-People-with-Short-Attention-Spans, or APSAS for short. The APSAS diet plan goes something like this:

-Eat as much meat as you want, especially red meat.

-Don't eat any bread.

-Severely limit intake of fruits and vegetables

-Don't eat any desserts.

You can easily spot people on the APSAS plan at a buffet - they're the ones who empty the roast beef platter on their first trip through the line.

You can lose weight this way, but (and I'll try to put this in non-medical terms so it will be clear to everyone) it's a pretty stupid thing to do. A diet that severely cuts back on one's intake of produce and whole-grain foods cannot in any real sense be thought of as "healthy." This meat-only approach is just a lazy shortcut to losing weight without sacrifice and in the long term it's just not good for you.

For anyone who hasn't yet developed an incurable allergy to persistence and hard work, there's still only one diet plan that makes any sense. Limit your overall calorie intake, eat a variety of nutritional foods, restrict your intake of "empty calories" (junk food), and exercise, exercise, exercise.

The formula for good health is not that complicated. The hard part is doing what you know you should. But then again, that's always the hard part, isn't it?



Bill Ferguson is a columnist for the Macon (Ga.) Telegraph. Readers may write to him at: The Macon Telegraph, 120 Broadway, Macon, Ga. 31201-3444; e-mail:


(c) 2004, The Macon Telegraph (Macon, Ga.). Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service.

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