Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Dr. Atkins Had It Right: Sugar, Not Fat, Is The Real Problem

Several years ago my wife (then girlfriend) and I went on the Atkins' diet. If you've never heard of this diet it is the low carbohydrate and sugar diet. You basically avoid sugar, and don't worry about fat, and you lose weight and maintain the weight loss by continuing on the diet.

The Atkins' diet is usually met with cynicism by those that have been brainwashed into a "red meat and fat are bad" mentality that has been propogated by our modern diet and exercise culture. They also try to say that limiting carbohydrates, especially good ones, is a bad idea and can lead to health problems. Most of those people do not understand the Atkins' diet.

The Atkins' diet starts out with the "induction" phase. For two weeks you keep your carb intake to 20 grams per day. You can eat as much as you want of foods that contain no carbs: meat, cheese, certain veggies, eggs, etc. This is the part of the diet that most people harp on when bashing the Atkins' diet. However, this is not intended for the long term, and after the initial two weeks you are supposed to add carbs back into your diet, at the rate of 20 grams per day (so week 3 you move up to 40 grams, week 4 60 grams, etc), until you find your "set point" or "carb tolerance" level.

Once you find that, whether it be 40 grams per day or 140 grams per day, you should consume those carbs in the form of fruits and vegetables. This is a little known secret of the Atkins' diet, it does advocate eating fruits and vegetables!

Critics will often scoff: "but eating that much meat, cheese, eggs, etc has to be bad for your cholesterol and heart". However, critics fail to realize what you are cutting out of your diet: greasy, fried foods. No potato chips, no fries, no onion rings or anything breaded and fried. My wife's grandmother went on the Atkins' diet and a couple of months into the diet went to her doctor. Her blood work had improved across the board. He told her whatever she was doing to keep it up. When she told him it was the Atkins' diet he couldn't believe it. But the proof was in her lab work.

Now, as with any other diet, there is a catch. It is extremely difficult to remain on the Atkins' diet. Carbs are everywhere, and the low and no carb substitutes for things like bread and pasta tend to leave a lot to be desired. Also, I have noticed that people that do not make it past the induction phase, the initial 2 week period, often go crazy eating carbs afterward. This usually leads to a net weight increase, despite the weight loss realized through the 2 weeks of induction.

But there is something to be said for Dr. Atkins' theory: limit your processed sugar consumption. As noted in a prior entry in this blog, this includes processed grains. The problem with refined sugar is not that it isn't natural, but that it isn't in a natural concentration. If you have ever studied the sugar production process you understand just how super-concentrated processed sugars are. Humans were not meant to consume sugar in such concentrated amounts. Eating refined sugar is akin to drinking concentrated fruit juice without adding water.

Once sugar hits your blood stream your body goes to work to store all of the excess sugar. It does this by converting it to fat! So you could eat a low or no fat diet, and still be contributing fat to your body by eating too much processed grains and sugars. Limiting sugar intake has an overall better impact on your health than limiting fat. Sugar is the real problem, not fat.

But what about fruits and vegetables? Don't they contain sugar? True almost all fruits, and some vegetables have sugar, but again we are talking about concentration levels. While consuming a lot of fruit and fruit juices can cause you to consume too much sugar, if you make them a balanced part of your diet it shouldn't be a problem. Sugary sweet treats and beverages (soda, etc) are the real killer, and should be avoided in daily consumption.

The key is to limit sugar consumption intelligently. Avoid adding sugar to foods and beverages. Avoid processed foods and low or no fat versions of things that normally have fat in them (mayo, salad dressing, etc). Switch to artificial sweeteners if you really can't go without sugar in tea or coffee. Try to stick to natural sugars like fruits, vegetables, and even honey in moderation.

Cutting back on your sugar intake will make you healthier, and help you achieve your weight loss goals.

1 comment:

  1. Good tips. Processed grains and sugars, not good. And, I agree: Sugary drinks are killer.


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