Atkins Crazy

Low-carb diets are all the rage, but are they good for you?


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Illustration: Scott Thigpen

Ron Hudson, a 56-year-old salesman, looked at me in disbelief. Had he actually just heard those words from my mouth? “You have diabetes,” I told him, “and the time has come for you to do something about it.” At 396 pounds, Ron knew he needed to get his lifelong weight problem under control. However, every diet plan he tried met with inevitable failure, because his motivation to succeed was not strong enough to overcome his cravings for snacks. His desk drawer at work was filled with unhealthy treats: doughnuts, cakes and king-size candy bars. Ron knew the time had come to make a drastic change. Not only did he sink into depression whenever he thought of buying new clothes, but he had already lost several family members to the complications of diabetes. Finally, last Memorial Day, Hudson committed himself to a diet plan that some may consider extreme: he stopped eating carbohydrates.

To eat or not to eat carbohydrates, that is the question. Once hailed as a necessary part of all meals, the backlash against carbohydrates (sugarlike molecules) has been immense. With the popularization of diet-plan books such as Atkins for Life, Sugar Busters!, The South Beach Diet and The Fat Flush Plan, one is left to wonder if there is anything safe to eat anymore. Surely, with soaring obesity rates and ever-increasing numbers of childhood diabetics, signs point to a dangerous trend in the American lifestyle. But what can be made of all the claims of low-carb diets? How do they compare with the more traditional way of eating, with a mix of all the food groups, that is recommended by the USDA Food Guide Pyramid?

Low-carbohydrate diets didn’t just start in the past decade. The Atkins diet has been around for 30 years, and scientists have noted the benefits of reducing certain types of foods in the diet for a century or more. However, never before has such an emphasis been placed on the nutritional value of what people eat, and never has there been such confusing, seemingly contradictory information. Nutrition experts have to go back to the drawing board and reformulate a plan based on current scientific evidence and research trials, challenging the findings of a mere decade ago.
 

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