A low carbohydrate diet may be significantly more effective at boosting one's HDL levels - the so-called "good cholesterol" - than a low fat diet over the long term, according to a study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine. Both diets were equally effective in the long term for reducing weight.
In a two year study conducted on 307 obese adults, low carb dieters saw a 23% increase in their HDL levels compared to a 12% increase in HDL among the low fat dieters. Gary Foster, director of Temple University's Center for Obesity Research and Education, compared the increase to one achieved by pharmaceutical therapy.
The low carb dieters followed a diet modeled after the Atkins plan, while the other half followed a low fat, low calorie plan. All the participants attended weight loss support and education groups regularly. No differences were noted between the two groups in bone density, body composition, and other measures.
While many Atkins proponents are encouraged by the new study, caution should be urged before embarking on a diet high in protein and meat. Although HDL reduction is important, one can also get the same benefits by a healthy lifestyle change; exercising regularly and eating a proper diet consistently boost HDL.
But there are other long term considerations that should be taken into account when considering a diet such as Atkins. A high consumption of red meat and processed meats has been linked in an abundant amount of studies to a higher cancer risk. Many cancers, including pancreatic, colon, breast, liver, and lung cancers, have been associated with eating red meat, including beef, pork, lamb, and processed meats such as sausage and bacon.
Since the Atkins diet promotes a high consumption of protein, many dieters find the diet to be an easy one to follow. Though they may lose weight, the long term effects of cancer should be considered as well.
The best approach? Eating a mostly vegetarian diet with a small intake of lean proteins from fish and skinless poultry. Vegetarians have a lower rate of heart disease and cancer. A flexitarian diet, proposed by Chicago author and registered dietician Dawn Jackson Blatner, advocates this type of eating. Many meat eaters find that reducing their intake of meat while significantly increasing their intake of vegetables, whole grains, and fruits is a much easier plan to follow.
The benefits of this flexible eating plan are extolled in her book, The Flexitarian Diet. "Flexitarians weigh 15% less, have a lower rate of heart disease, diabetes and cancer, and live 3.6 years longer than their carnivorous counterparts," Blatner advises.