Use caution with any dieting plan

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, February 10, 2004

It’s a good bet that hundreds of Suffolkians are more than a month into eliminating carbohydrates from their diet as part of a New Year’s resolution to lose weight.

Many are no doubt astonished by their success while others are struggling.

There’s a lot of controversy surround the low-carb Atkins diet, controversy that was stoked by the revelation this week that Dr. Robert Atkins, originator and defender of the diet, weighed a whopping 250 pounds at the time of his death. He also suffered congestive heart failure and high blood pressure – maladies commonly associated with a diet that is too rich in fat.

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Atkins’ defenders say the weight gain was caused by fluid intake during a comatose period after Atkins suffered a fall and that his heart and blood pressure problems were genetic.

Whether or not Atkins’ problems were related to his diet will likely never be conclusively proven. Nonetheless, we urge that dieters use caution in following the plan.

The bad rep carbohydrates have received is mostly undeserved. Virtually all medical evidence suggests that carbohydrates are essential to the proper functioning of the human machine. People should seek out whole grain foods and avoid over-processed and sugary carbs.

Yes, the Atkins diet promotes weight loss, but it’s likely the result of reduced calorie intake which, along with exercise, is still considered by most in the medical profession to be the most sensible course to follow in developing a healthy lifestyle.

Dr. Atkins should be honored for helping Americans combat obesity – perhaps the biggest health crisis facing the nation – and generating results that encourage people to strive to reach their weight loss goals.

Nonetheless, there’s little evidence that Atkins’ plan is any better than any other fad diet in the long term and some studies show that much of the Atkins-induced weight loss is soon regained as dieters tire of the regimen. It may be a good idea to use Atkins to jumpstart your program, but it’s no substitute for the basics of eating less and staying active.