Does the Atkins diet work better than the conventional low-fat route?
Studies so far: The longest study to date lasted only a year and was small—only 37 people completed the full 12 months, 20 of them on Atkins and the other 17 on a traditional low-fat regimen. The researchers found that those on the Atkins diet shed more pounds during the first six months, but by the end of the year there was no significant difference in the amount the two groups lost (about 13 pounds per person). Additional studies also showed faster results by those on Atkins-like diets, although much of the weight dropped in the first week or two is water.
But...there's nothing miraculous about eliminating carbs, says Dena Bravata, MD, a research scientist at Stanford University who did an analysis of low-carb diet studies. She maintains, like most experts, that losing weight is merely a matter of consuming fewer calories than you burn—and these diets help restrict calories. But one new pilot study from Harvard has just thrown a wrench into this accepted wisdom: When people on a low-fat regimen ate exactly the same number of calories as those on an Atkins-type diet, the latter group lost more weight. An additional low-carb group who ate 300 more calories per day still lost more than the low-fat dieters. Their study was very small (21 people) and lasted only 12 weeks, and the researchers can't explain the findings. But it opens the door to the heretical notion that not all calories are created equal. Stay tuned for further research.