GREAT NUTRITION DEBATE: Diet Gurus Chew the Fat
Although Americans spend $50 billion a year on weight loss products, they continue to get fatter. This weighty problem prompted the Agriculture Department this week to sponsor the "great nutrition debate" -- inviting the authors of popular fad diets to weigh in on the merits of their plans, the New York Times reports. Because "there is so much confusing, conflicting information out there," Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman hoped that diet gurus could wade through the information and draw some conclusions. However, there seemed to be little agreement as the three-hour debate grew contentious (2/25). Touting his high-protein, low-carbohydrate diet, Dr. Robert Atkins, author of the popular "Dr. Atkins' New Diet Revolution," said, "It's easy to follow. You're never hungry." He added that his diet was safe and effective (Delfiner, New York Post, 2/25). However, medical and nutrition experts argued that telling people to follow a diet that is heavy on fat-laden cheeses and meats and very light on fruits and vegetables increases the risk of heart disease and some types of cancers.
Responsible but Not Yummy
Dr. Dean Ornish, author of "Eat More, Weigh Less," blasted Atkins' diet. He said, "Telling people that pork rinds and sausage are good for you is a great way to sell books, but it is irresponsible and dangerous for those who follow their advice." Instead, he promotes a very-low fat diet relying heavily on fruits, vegetables and whole grain pasta. But his program has been assailed because it "doesn't taste good and is impossible to stick to unless your life depends on it." Some experts warned that the Atkins' diet could cause bone loss or kidney damage. But Atkins' countered that none of his patients had experienced bone loss and that there is "not even a reason in scientific literature to suggest" possible kidney damage.
Where is No. 1?
Somewhere between the extremes offered by Atkins and Ornish are more moderate diets such as "The Zone" by Barry Sears and "Sugar Busters!" by Dr. Morrison Bethea. Both diets focus on the body's use of insulin, but critics contend that the diets work mainly because they are low in calories (Hellmich, USA Today, 2/24). Although the debate did not provide a clear winner, the weight-loss experts did agree on a few points: "Americans are too fat. Exercise is good. Added sugars and refined carbohydrates, like those in white bread, are not." Glickman offered this advice: "Eat well and eat healthy." He did indicate that federal researchers might need to start evaluating fad diets (Brasher, AP/Contra Costa Times, 2/25). Currently, the Agriculture Department is revising federal dietary guidelines (Reuters/San Jose Mercury News, 2/24).