Atkins Misrepresented
--- even in obituaries

(2005 Oct blog post ; enhanced 2008 Jan)

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When Dr. Atkins died, the obituaries that I saw would not let the poor man rest in peace.

The obituaries misrepresented his diet as a "high fat" diet, rather than more accurately calling it a "low sugars-and-starches" diet. The people who propagate misrepresentations of his diet, like this, have obviously never read his books --- and they do not understand from where he derived his diet suggestions.

As if the obituaries weren't enough, many doctors with "competing" low-carb diet plans make totally erroneous claims about the Atkins diet. Some doctors, such as Dr. Gott in his book on his "No Flour, No Sugar" diet (a well-named diet), make outrageously untrue accusations --- for example, claiming that the Atkins diet is deficient in healthy carb providers such as vegetables. These assaults on Atkins are ironic, since these doctors' low-carb diets are very similar to the Atkins diet and were probably inspired by it --- indirectly if not directly.

Furthermore, in the 1970s' and 1980's and beyond, doctors high in the hierarchy of the American Medical Association (AMA) launched --- and continue to launch --- unbelievably acrid (and unjustified --- and un-scientific) assaults on his character as well as his dietary suggestions. It is a credit to Atkins that he did not surrender to the amazing amount of nonsense (based on false logic and pseudo-science) that has been promoted by these doctors who were trying to wreck his career. Their main contribution has been to wreck the health of 100s of thousands of people by essentially downplaying the fact that sugar(s) get converted into fat. These AMA doctors imply that the only generator of fat is fat.

Anyone who has read the first chapter or two of the several books Atkins wrote on the "Atkins diet" would see long lists of vegetables that he suggests for the "induction" phase of his diet and for later phases of the diet. If the diet is high in anything, it is relatively high in protein sources (such as cheese and lean meats) and high in healthy (low-starch, high-nutrient) vegetables.

The 1963 AMA research report that led to the 'Atkins diet'

Atkins' diet suggestions were not invented by him. He was merely trying to popularize results that he had read about in an AMA medical journal article published back in the early 1960's --- popularize for the benefit of the citizens of this country (and of the world). To quote Atkins in his book "Atkins for Life", 2003, page xii:

    "The first published documentation of the success of a controlled carbohydrate dietary regimen appeared in the 1800s, but we needn't go back that far. It was after reading a scientific study on the effectiveness of several low carbohydrate weight-loss programs in the October 1963 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association that I decided to put a similar approach into practice.

    We now have, on our web site, summaries of close to four hundred [ 400 ! ] scientific studies that support the principles upon which the controlled carbohydrate nutritional approach is based."

[Atkins probably saw another low-carb diet study in the same volume of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), a December 1963 paper. Since the Oct and Dec 1963 papers are no longer available at the JAMA site, nor at other sites on the internet, I have found the articles in a medical library and keyed in most of the text of the articles. The texts are available via multiple links in this page.]

For more recent justification of the Atkins diet, in the back of the book "The Atkins Essentials" (2004) that was published after Atkins' death, there is a bibliography of 15 peer-reviewed studies, published in 2001 to 2003, that specifically focused on the outcomes that result from the "Atkins Nutritional Approach".

Many of these studies come from respected researchers at institutions such as Harvard and Stanford.

The 1864 'Letter on Corpulence'

The first publication about a successful "controlled carbohydrate regimen", which Atkins mentions above, is the 'Letter on Corpulence', published by William Banting in 1864. Here is a PDF file that you can read, to see what this man found, through personal experience, about 150 years ago.

If you do a Google search on the words "william banting letter on corpulence", you will get about 800 "hits". You can find quite a bit more background information on Banting and his dieting experiences.

Banting reveals at the end of his 'Letter on Corpulence' that the doctor who set him on his low-carbohydrate diet was the famous English doctor, William Harvey, the first person to describe in detail the circulation of the blood through the body.

So when these AMA doctors are attacking Atkins for his diet, they are also attacking William Harvey.

Some features of the Atkins diet

The two 1963 AMA journal papers mentioned above

pointed out that carbohydrates are a main cause of fat generation in humans. (And you can bet that 'bad carbs' do the same to people's pets --- not just humans. To blame are too many high-carb --- flour, sugar --- table scraps. Fat pets are quite likely a representation of the unhealthy dietary habits of their owners.)

Carbohydrate-rich foods have three significant components, by weight.

  • sugars
  • starches
  • fibers

(The "micro-nutrients" --- such as vitamins and minerals and various enzymes and "co-factors" --- that are so important in carbohydrate-rich foods are measured in micro-grams rather than grams. While important for health, the micro-nutrients do not constitute enough weight to contribute to the large mass of fat in cases of obesity.)

Let it be known that SUGAR(s) is one of the main "offending" carbohydrates that anyone is talking about --- whether it be Dr. Atkins or Dr. Gott or Suzanne Somers or the South Beach diet or the Zone diet or whatever.

Let the record be set straight. The Atkins diet is a

  • LOW-STARCHY-FOODS (potatoes, wheat flour, white rice),
  • LOW-HYDROGENATED (manufactured) FATS

diet --- NOT a "high-fat" diet. In fact, the Oct 1963 paper, on which the Atkins diet is based, points out that such a diet is a "moderate fat" diet.

The Atkins approach is a "low-carb" diet, as in

  • first and foremost, low in sugarS -- then
  • low in OTHER high-sugar-generating foods (starches),
    such as 'de-nuded' wheat, 'de-nuded' rice, and
    potatoes (french fries, baked, mashed, chips --- however prepared).

It's sugarS --- not just sugar

Here, the word "sugar" refers to sugar in its many forms --- not just refined white sugar granules, but also the nowadays-popular "high fructose corn syrup" (HFCS), that is used in salad dressings as well as "soft drinks" and almost every junk food. HFCS is also the chief ingredient in most "low fat" processed foods, like "low fat" salad dressings and "low fat" desserts.

If the makers of "low fat" foods simply removed fats from their products, it would leave a very bland-tasting, unpalatable product. To make the product pleasing, they add sugars like HFCS. Hence, many "low fat" products are "high sugar" products --- typically 20 percent or more sugar.

Furthermore, note that starches are long chains of sugars --- that is, starches are large molecules made of up multiple sugar molecules. The body breaks starches down into sugar molecules --- within a couple of hours in the intestines. And the body converts sugars into tri-glycerides, a main component of fat cells.

It boils down to this. Sugars are pre-fats and starches are pre-sugars (and thus pre-pre-fats). Over-consumption of starches and sugars leads to excessive body fat. Pictorially,

So most "low fat" processed foods and "junk foods" are full of "pre-fats" (sugars, flours, corn starch and other starchy fillers). No wonder many people, who think they are on a "low fat" (creating) diet, find that the diet does not work.

And many people who lose weight on a low-carb diet gain the weight back because they go back to their old ways of eating too many pre-fats --- instead of following the Atkins approach of finding the number of grams of 'net carbs' that they need to target, to maintain their weight loss.

    'Net carb' grams are total-carb-grams minus fiber-carb-grams, as seen on 'Nutrition Facts' food labels. That simple subtraction gives the number of grams of sugars-plus-starches --- per 'serving'.

People need to stick to an appropriate limit (of both 'net-carbs' and of fats) --- adjusted for the amount of exercise they are getting --- in order to maintain their weight loss.

What the Atkins diet comes down to is basically

  • eating healthy foods rather than "junk", and
  • portion control, taking into account the amount of exercise that you get.

Alternative approaches to the Atkins diet

Michael Pollan, author of "In Defense of Food" and "The Omnivore's Dilemma", puts its concisely --- "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants."

    (What he means by "Eat food" is "Eat non-manufactured food" --- food like his grandfather and grandmother ate.)

And Dr. Gott, another diet-promoting doctor, puts it even more succinctly --- "No sugar. No flour." Follow that mantra, and you do not have to count calories or grams of sugars-plus-starches.

Atkins on fats

NOTE that "Atkins" is a "good fats" diet --- as in LOW in "trans-fats" (i.e. low in artificially created fats, such as hydrogenated oils). And his diet is HIGH-ON (but not HIGH-IN) HEALTHY FATS, like olive oil and fish-oil and nuts (all of which are high in omega-3 fatty acids).

One example of this "healthy fats approach" is that it is better to eat butter (a natural fat, that is compatible with the fats that occur in all the cell membranes of our body) than to eat margerine or Crisco (which are heavy, unnatural fats created by hydrogenating vegetable oils).

When Atkins gives an example of a healthy breakfast --- high in proteins and good fats rather than carbohydrates --- he generally mentions eggs with (lean) ham or Canadian bacon, not eggs with bacon. His detractors repeatedly say his diet is heavy with bacon (of the fat-rippled kind). They obviously have not read his books and are simply quoting each other or quoting doctors who have not read the research (AMA publications) on which his lifestyle-diet is based.

Rest in peace, Dr. Atkins! If they had only listened to you, the U.S. would not be faced with this epidemic of obesity and Type 2 diabetes that is going to grind the U.S. medical system into the ground in coming years.

A veritable cornucopia of low-carb diets

By the way, there is a very good book that gives an overview and evaluation of 14 different low-carb diets (i.e. *lifetime* eating plans) --- including Atkins, South Beach, the Zone, the Paleo diet, Somersizing, and nine others. The book is "Living the Low Carb Life" by Jonny Bowden, a certified nutrition specialist and former personal trainer.

The book presents 'Why Low-Carb Diets Work' --- and it openly discusses the knocks that low-carb diets have received, from the "low-fat" and "low-calorie" camps. This diet book, more than most others, gets heavily into the biochemistry involved, at some points.

Bowden has a web site at and he has a very good list of MANY other informative websites at the back of his 'Living the Low Carb Life' book.

Many links to informative diet-and-health sites --- including before-and-after photo sites --- are on the Diet Links page, on the Home Page of this web site.

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Posted in 2005 Oct.
Some changes were made 2007 Jan 05.
Some links were added 2008 Feb 01.
A slight rewrite was done 2008 Jul 7.
Changed slightly, to improve printing, 2009 Aug 25.
(Pages may break nicely when printing at 80% 'scale'.)
Changed page format slightly 2013 Apr 29.