By Margarita Nahapetyan
A vegetarian version of the Atkins low-carbohydrate diet, the one that substitutes meat with plant protein, may help overweight people lose weight and bring down levels of bad cholesterol in the blood, Canadian researchers reported in the June 8 issue of Archives of Internal Medicine, one of the JAMA/Archives journals.
A small, 30-day-long study of the so-called Eco-Atkins diet, appeared to work better than a high-carb diet when it came to reducing levels of low-density lipoprotein or LDL, which increases the risks of heart attacks and strokes. It also showed signs of lowering blood pressure, said a team of investigators led by Dr. David Jenkins of St. Michael's Hospital and the University of Toronto in Ontario.
"There is a dilemma relating to the proportion and source of fat, protein and carbohydrate that constitutes the optimal weight loss and cholesterol-lowering diet," the authors wrote as background information in the article. The newest dietary approaches for the prevention and treatment of chronic disease put an emphasis on an increased fruit and vegetable consumption and less intake of meat.
For the study purposes, the experts involved 47 overweight men and women with high total and LDL cholesterol levels. For four weeks, all the participants ate only food that was prepared for them in accordance with the study. The researchers prepared and supplied the meals which provided the participants in both groups with about 60 per cent of their estimated calorie requirements.
Half of the participants ate a low-fat diet that was high in plant-based protein, such as soy, gluten, nuts, oil, fruits, vegetables and cereal, and low in carbohydrates. Oats and barley, which are high in fiber, were included in limited amounts, but common starchy foods, such as bread, baked goods, and rice were not allowed in the diet. For a comparison, the other half of the study participants received a high carbohydrate, low-fat, lacto-ovo vegetarian diet, which included only low-fat or skim dairy products and egg whites or egg substitutes.
The results revealed that at the end of the month, both groups had the same average weight loss -- approximately 4 kilograms or 8.8 pounds. However, drops in LDL-C levels and improvements in the ratios between total cholesterol and HDL-C were greater for the group assigned to low-carb diet, when compared to the group who ate diet high in carbs. Improvements in total cholesterol, ratios of proteins that adhere to fats, and blood pressure were also seen in the group who ate low-carbohydrate diet. In addition, small but significantly greater reductions were observed in both systolic (top number) and diastolic (bottom number) blood pressure for the low-carb group, when compared to the subjects in the high-carbohydrate group.
The findings provide insight into debatably more effective and possibly safer methods for designing diets high in proteins for losing weight and the reduction of heart disease risk, Dr. Katherine Tuttle, M.D., and Joan Milton, R.D., at the University of Washington School of Medicine in Spokane, Wash., wrote in an accompanying editorial. However, they added, it is still too early to recommend the Eco-Atkins diet as a weight loss option without confirmation of its efficacy in broader research that would involve more diverse and higher-risk individuals. More investigation on the matter is also important in order to ascertain both sustainability and safety of the diet. What is more, it would be much better if the efficacy of the diet was assessed in a more realistic setting where individuals could prepare all meals on their own, the experts concluded.