The cynically misnamed Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM — less than 4 percent of whom are actual physicians) has long engaged in a smear campaign against the Atkins diet. Scrounging for any excuse (justifiable or not) to tarnish the cheeses and meats touted as “healthy” by the Atkins plan, the group has made wild claims about “fatalities” among low-carb devotees, has sought out disgruntled dieters to sue doctors advising them to take up Atkins, and has demanded “health-risk warning labels … on all Atkins products.” Not surprisingly, a report in today’s New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) leaves PCRM with low-carb egg on its face.
Researchers discovered that the merits of following a low-fat guidelines are significantly less than those of low-carb, high-protein diets which, as The Wall Street Journal noted, “permit people to freely eat cheese, meats and animal fats that are discouraged in traditional diets.” Though PCRM leader Neal Barnard is fond of calling cheese “morphine on a cracker,” this study showed that dairy-lovin’ dieters get greater cardiovascular benefits than people adhering to conventional low-fat diets. (Morphine’s not a boost for heart health, but now it seems that Muenster is.)
This Atkins-vindicating study also highlights another important point: We’re better served by increasing our daily activity instead of restricting our food choices. More than half of Americans continue to diet, even though conservative estimates indicate a 90 percent failure rate for these food-focused routines. And the NEJM study doesn’t offer much hope. After two years of obsessing over their meals, participants only lost, on average, 6 to 10 pounds. As New York Times science writer Tara Parker-Pope observes, “dieters can put forth tremendous effort and reap very little benefit.”
So the low-fat religion may come down to this: Lots of effort, no cheese, and no results. Atkins may not be a magic formula for everyone, but burning calories — whether they came from leafy greens or strip steak — is still the most reliable way to lose weight. Even for the anti-meat crowd at the phony "Physicians Committee."