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Dr. Kim Mulvihill ReportingIt's estimated that between 30 and 50 million Americans are following some kind of low carbohydrate diet. It's big business -- the spending on these diets is estimated to hit one billion dollars this year. But do they work, and are they safe?
Andy Richman has been battling weight problems for years. He tried lots of different diets, then he took the high protein low carb approach.
Andy Richman: "Initially the weight loss is tremendous, you see the weight drop and it seems like you are eating a ton of food and you are not hungry on it".
The appeal of the diet is simple. You get to eat all the meat and chicken and fish you want. Forget worrying about the fat or calorie content. In return you have to stop eating carbohydrate heavy foods such as pasta, bread and grains, and can only eat very limited amounts of fruits and vegetables.
It's that aspect of the diet that worries nutrition experts like California Pacific Medical Center's Jane Tien.
Jane Tien RD, CPMC: "I'm concerned about the potential saturated fat intake and lack of fiber and lack of minerals, because a lot of people tend to overlook the essential carbohydrates that the body needs."
Last year five studies showed the high-protein low carb approach was just as effective as low-fat diets at helping obese people lose weight. In addition those on the low carb diet saw reductions in their LDL or bad cholesterol, and increases in their HDL or good cholesterol.
But that was just over the short term. The bigger question is how healthy is this kind of approach over the long term.
Jane Tien RD, CPMC: "There is definitely a risk of nutrient deficiency in the long run. That's why I keep emphasizing that if it's for a brief duration it's all right, but not in the long run."
And Dr. Kim says the high protein high fat approach is definitely not healthy for people with heart conditions or kidney problems. For now the bottom line seems to be it's a safe, effective way to kick start a weight loss program, but it's not a proven healthy long-term option.