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Low-carb diets more effective at boosting good cholesterol than low fat diets

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 MedicineBoth 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.


  • Nancy Z-Grand Rapids Health Examiner 4 years ago

    Great info and article. Glad to hear that all of the veggies I eat are so good for me.

  • Taylor Rios 4 years ago

    Sounds like a balance is needed

  • April Adams - Salt Lake Wellness Examiner and Cat 4 years ago

    Great article! Thanks for the info!

  • Jimmy Moore, Low-Carb Lifestyle Examiner 4 years ago

    No, eating a plant-based, "lean" protein diet is not the way to eat a healthy Atkins diet. It needs to include as it did in this study plenty of fat, including and especially saturated fat along with moderate amounts of protein and limited carbohydrates primarily from green leafy veggies. That's the kind of diet Dr. Foster had these study participants on and it performed spectacularly.

  • Tina T. - Chicago Healthy Living Examiner 4 years ago

    Jimmy, my point is that although the Atkins diet had HDL benefits, one must consider the risks involved with that type of diet. Cancer, linked to eating red meats, was not a consideration in the above referenced study. My point is that one should weigh the benefits vs. risks when considering the appropriate diet.

  • jianmei 4 years ago

    Sounds like a balance is needed

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  • Sherrie Hartman -Detroit Children's Health Examine 4 years ago

    I'm going to be looking for this book. It sounds like it's a healthy decision regarding diet that I can stick to.

  • Winona Cooking Examiner 4 years ago

    This sounds like a very interesting book, will have to look for it...good information for healthier living.

  • - Deb - 4 years ago

    "The low carb dieters followed a diet modeled after the Atkins plan, while the other half followed a low carbohydrate, low calorie plan." Ummm... what?

  • Anonymous 4 years ago

    Exercise has a very modest effect on both HDL and LDL cholesterol. Eating a vegetarian diet will dramatically lower HDL and LDL cholesterol, unless that diet has a healthy portion of easily digestable carbohydrates. Under those conditions, LDL will be boosted, and HDL will plummet.

    The China Study has been touted as definitive proof of the desirability of a vegetarian diet. However, a recent analysis of the data by an independent party revealed that Dr. Campbell, author if the study, withheld crucial information in some cases, and manipulated data in other. It turns out that meat and fat are not the villains he made them out to be...wheat is. I'd love to see a valid study showing that vegetarians are healthier. At the health food store I shop at, I see vegetarians and they look very unhealthy in some cases.

    The Atkins diet is not a high-protein diet, but rather a moderate protein diet that places no limits on animal fat. Fat consumption, in the absence of refined carbohydrates, is not harmful, unless the fats are primarily polyunsaturated fats. In addition, dietary cholesterol has little if any effect on the cholesterol levels in the blood. As dietary cholesterol increases, two things happens. First, the body makes less and secondly, the intestines absorb less.

    In either event, eating whole foods is healthier than eating processed foods.

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