Doctors who support the Atkins diet are asking federal officials to consider its new low-carb food pyramid as an alternative to the traditional one.
The chair of the Atkins Physicians Council, Dr. Stuart Trager, argues the traditional food pyramid, created in the 1960s by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, is obsolete.
Trager maintains the increasing rate of obese Americans proves the traditional pyramid - which suggests the bulk of what we're supposed to eat is made up of breads, rice, and pasta - is outdated.
"The traditional pyramid hasn't worked," Trager said on ABCNEWS' Good Morning America. "People have not been able to maintain healthy weight. What we've done is taken Dr. Atkins' words in over 30 years and conceptualized it and displayed it, showing people that when you follow Atkins it's not just about eating red meat, it's about smart carbohydrate choices."
The alternative Atkins pyramid proposes a focus on more protein and less sugars and starch. "I think it is the emphasis on carbohydrate awareness. You make smarter carbohydrate choices. You don't do without, you do different," Trager explained.
The council has briefed federal officials from the Department of Health and Human Services, the Food and Drug Administration, the White House and key members of Congress on the growing need to combat the nation's obesity epidemic.
Trager didn't give specifics on the Bush administration's reaction to the group's presentation of an Atkins alternative food pyramid, but said the government is aware the traditional pyramid needs work and that the Atkins group wants to be part of whatever changes do take place.
"I think they realize that people are following this approach, and clearing up these misconceptions is very good," Trager added.
Atkins diet representatives aren't the only ones who see a problem with the current pyramid. Back in 2002, Harvard researches published a study which found people who followed alternative diets, ones that didn't reflect the traditional pyramid, improved their health.
The study, published in the December 2002 issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, assessed the diets of more than 100,000 men and women, and found those who ate alternative diets lowered their risk of chronic disease by almost 40 percent in men and 30 percent in women.
Walter Willett, chair of the department of nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health in Cambridge, Mass., said the study supports the idea the traditional pyramid needs some adjustment.
"The public has been told for many years that fats are bad and carbohydrates are good," said Willett. "In fact, we've known for 30 or 40 years that that's not really true."
The Harvard researchers behind the study proposed a new order of foods in the pyramid. Fats, at least the good ones like olive oil, should be in the favored base position and breads and refined starches relegated to a tiny corner at the top.
All proteins wouldn't be treated equally, as they are now. Nuts and beans are better than fish and eggs, they say. And as for red meat, consumption should be minimal and squeezed next to starches at the top.
Meanwhile, Trager also denounced a recently released confidential medical report on the late Dr. Robert Atkins, the man behind the diet phenomenon. The report was obtained and released to the media by a doctor from the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, which promotes a vegetarian diet.
The report's most stunning revelation was that Dr. Atkins was reportedly severely overweight. The confidential document said Atkins weighed 258 pounds at the time of his death, and had a history of heart attack, congestive heart failure and hypertension. But Trager argues records from Dr. Atkins' physician showed he weighed between 180 and 200 over the last years of his life. He argued the group that released the report was trying to use Dr. Atkins to promote its own ideas.
"This is a group of people who will say and do anything to promote vegetarian lifestyle," Trager said. "It's just another example of putting out half of the facts."
While cause and manner of death are public information, medical reports are not. Atkins' death certificate stated the doctor died from injuries suffered after a fall on an icy New York City sidewalk.
While reports in recent weeks have said that representatives of the Atkins diet have been changing their recommendations to dieters, suggesting they reduce their intake of saturated fat, Trager has insisted there have been no changes to Dr. Atkins' guidelines since 1972.
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