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Real Life Nutrition Questions Answered

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Emma Brown

Janet Aylott

Kelly Marshall
Fitness Consultant


What's the science behind the atkins diet?

I have been reading about the Atkins diet. I know you do not recommend this approach here but you don't talk about the actual research behind it i.e.the theory that fat burning hormones are released much more when you restrict your intake of carbohydrates. As far as I have read you do still eat carbs and you increase the amount you eat as you near your ideal weight until you reach the right balance between carb intake and fat burning. At no point do you eat no carbs - I don't believe? This doesn't sound terribly different from any diet? Would appreciate your thoughts?


Our expert says...

I think you are talking about some research in animals last year which showed that a hormone (fibroblast growth factor 21 or FGF21) is stimulated by 'low carb', high protein and high fat diets, and seems to have a fat-burning role.

A group of researchers led by Steven Kliewer at Southwestern University in Dallas, Texas found that this hormone stimulates fat metabolism in the liver.

At the same time, Eleftheria Maratos-Flier and her colleagues from Boston University found that a ketogenic diet, low in carbohydrates and relatively high in fat, stimulated the production of this hormone. Both studies were published simultaneously in a journal called Cell Metabolism.

All this would sem to point to the fact that low carb diets do in fact help weight loss seprate from the reason that they restrict calories. But even the Atkins company themselves point out that there?s a distinct possibility that people may vary considerably in their ability to ?turn on? the FGF21 hormone, which might well account for why some people do well on a low carb diet and others don?t.

My own opinion is that some level of carbohydrate restriction can help some dieters, but that carbohydrates, particularly whole grains, are still important in the diet for all sorts of health reasons, and not least for their filing capacity and ability to give you energy. Atkins would have you believe that it's a moderate carb diet which in later stages it is, but at the beginning it is very low carb indeed and this I would never recommend.

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