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Low-Starch, High-Fat Diets Appear to Work

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In the quest for an effective weight-loss diet that also is nutritionally complete, researchers report preliminary weight loss results of a regimen that is similar to the Atkins diet that are encouraging, but merit further, broader study.

Researchers from Cardiology Research at Christiana Care Health Services, Inc., in Newark, Delaware, reported patients on a high-saturated-fat and avoidance-of-starch diet similar to the Atkins diet experienced 5% weight loss after 6 weeks without adverse effects. The Atkins diet is noted for its high-fat foods and carbohydrate restrictions, which have been shown to result in weight loss.

James Hays, MD, of the Christiana Care Health Services, Inc., the primary investigator, said the study came about after researchers noted that patients with atherosclerosis or diabetes were also experiencing weight loss with a diet they were prescribing for treatment of the chronic disease. The findings were published in Mayo Clinic Proceedings.

"For the last 8 years, we have been concentrating on dietary treatment of the chronic diseases diabetes and atherosclerosis and have ended up prescribing to patients a diet high in saturated fat much like what Dr. Atkins has advocated for weight loss," Hays said. "A consistent calorie intake is helpful in treatment of diabetes, so we have prescribed a consistent intake of certain fruits and vegetables rather than Dr. Atkins' step-wise approach and this may have resulted in some other differences."

Although further studies remain to be done, it might be possible to find an optimum diet that results in weight loss, promotes longevity and contains a lot of saturated fat, Hays said. The Atkins diet relies on ketosis, the decrease in appetite related to the caloric intake. However no long-term studies have determined whether there is a risk of cardiovascular disease.

Others who contributed to the study include Angela DiSabatino; Robert Gorman, PhD; Simi Vincent, PhD, MD; and Michael Stillabower, MD, all of Christiana Care Health Services.

The observational study looked at 17 men and 6 women who self-reported food intake and each lost 5% of their body weight in 6 weeks, Hays said. The diet prescribed for patients by the physicians was to consume one half of all calories as saturated fat, primarily as red meat and cheese. Eggs and other low-fat forms of protein were allowed, regardless of cholesterol content. Fresh fruit and non-starchy vegetables were prescribed in restricted amounts at each meal. Starch was forbidden.

In an editorial in the same issue of Mayo Clinic Proceedings, Gerald Gau, MD, of Mayo Clinic's Division of Cardiovascular Diseases and Internal Medicine, writes that researchers should keep an open mind about the Atkins diet and continue to study its metabolic effects.

With this published study, Gau noted that long-term follow-up and larger numbers of patients are needed for more definitive information. Gau wrote that other diets that restrict calories should also be studied for their risks and benefits (Effect of a high saturated fat and no-starch diet on serum lipid subfractions in patients with documented atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease. Mayo Clin Proc, 2003;78(11):1331-6). This article was prepared by Health & Medicine Week editors from staff and other reports.

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