I get asked all the time, "what do you think about the Atkin's Diet?". Well, as a Nutritional Bio-Chemist, my opinion and answer to that question would have to be a biochemical response.
First of all, lets start with the foundation of the Atkins Diet. Robert Atkins did not invent the Low Carb diet. It was first administered over 80 years ago by John Hopkins Medical School and Hospital for the treatment of pediatric Epilepsy. It was then modified for the U.S. Air Force long before Robert Atkins picked it up to modify it once again.
Our bodies run on glucose as a fuel. We can not store glucose and have enough for about 24 hours. When we have no food for 24 hours, the body turns to burn fat for energy and this is called Ketosis. By having a diet at 80% fat, and these are the right type of fats, some protein and almost no carbohydrates, the body remains in Ketosis and the pH of the blood can change, which can alleviate seizures, either the severity or the occurrence all together.
It is speculated to work because the pancreas has no or low signal to release insulin to counter or escort the glucose into the cells. Keeping the insulin steady in the system will not trigger seizures in the brain.
Like in all things, an excess can bring on side-effects. Some side effects of a Low Carb or Ketogenic Diet may include kidney stones and gall stones, some women may have menstrual irregularities. Because of the amount of fat and protein in the diet, some may suffer from Pancreatitis or inflammation of the pancreas, because there is an increase of fat, some minerals will not absorb correctly, so there can be decreased bone density and sometimes eye problems, sometimes there is a high level of fat build up in the blood, especially if the person is deficient in certain digestive enzymes. All these side effects can be very serious and that is why the Ketogenic Diet has always been administered by Nutritional-Medical professionals within the care of a hospital.
Low Carb or No Carb diets can be deceiving, especially since the goal is to keep the blood glucose levels steady.
There are some sugar substitutes that are 50% protein, this protein can cause an increase of activity within the cell. As any diabetic can tell you, the use of Aspartame, which is 50 percent phenylalanine, can cause the blood sugar to go out of control. Phenylalanine should not be taken by pregnant women or by people who suffer from anxiety attacks, diabetes, high blood pressure, phenylketonuria (PKU), or preexisting pigmented melanoma, a type of skin cancer, this is directed by the medical and medical research community.
Aspertame also is made up of Aspartic Acid and methyl alcohol or wood alcohol. So, not only do you have the risk of toxicity because of the amino acid phenylalanine, you also have methanol which is considered poisonous even in small amounts. Methanol can cause blindness, brain swelling, and inflammation of the pancreas and heart muscle.
Splenda or Sucralose has still other problems, it was not studied throughly before the FDA approved it. Under scrutiny of the biochemical community, especially after Aspertame was approved without long term study, the following has been noted, this taken from the http://www.low-carbdiet.co.uk/splenda.htm website.
"...Few human studies of safety have been published on sucralose. One small study of diabetic patients using the sweetener showed a statistically significant increase in glycosylated hemoglobin (Hba1C), which is a marker of long-term blood glucose levels and is used to assess glycemic control in diabetic patients. According to the FDA, "increases in glycosolation in hemoglobin imply lessening of control of diabetes.
Research in animals has shown that sucralose can cause many problems in rats, mice, and rabbits, such as:
Shrunken thymus glands (up to 40% shrinkage)
Enlarged liver and kidneys.
Atrophy of lymph follicles in the spleen and thymus
Increased cecal weight
Reduced growth rate
Decreased red blood cell count
Hyperplasia of the pelvis
Extension of the pregnancy period
Decreased fetal body weights and placental weights
According to one source (Sucralose Toxicity Information Center), concerning the significant reduction in size of the thymus gland, "the manufacturer claimed that the sucralose was unpleasant for the rodents to eat in large doses and that starvation caused the shrunken thymus glands.
[Toxicologist Judith] Bellin reviewed studies on rats starved under experimental conditions, and concluded that their growth rate could be reduced by as much as a third without the thymus losing a significant amount of weight (less than 7 percent). The changes were much more marked in rats fed on sucralose. While the animals' growth rate was reduced by between 7 and 20 percent, their thymuses shrank by as much as 40 percent. (New Scientist 23 Nov 1991, pg 13)"
A compound chemically related to sucrose, 6-chloro-deoxyglucose, is known to have anti-fertility and neurotoxic effects, although animal studies of sucralose have not shown these effects.
According to the FDA's "Final Rule" report, "Sucralose was weakly mutagenic in a mouse lymphoma mutation assay." The FDA also reported many other tests as having "inconclusive" results.
Just how few studies currently exist on sucralose is an issue. Endurance News provides the following table illustrating this fact:
Sweetener + # of Studies*
*Number of studies determined by MEDLINE search.
In terms of safety, it is not just the original substance (sucralose) that one needs to worry about. As the FDA notes, "Because sucralose may hydrolyze in some food products...the resulting hydrolysis products may also be ingested by the consumer."
I went into a forum looking for research information. There were many comments about Sucralose, most saying that if there was negative information about a product, that it was bogus because the FDA would have never approved it. The FDA approved the drug combination of Phen-Fen, which caused heart problems for thousands of people, some irreversible. Sure, it helped them to lose weight, but they didn't have their health to live it after words.
Then we have Sugar Alcohols, like...sorbitol, xylitol, mannitol, lactitol, maltitol and others.
Sugar alcohols are alcohols that are derived from sugar molecules. They are a carbohydrate, but according to the FDA, sugar alcohols have a very small impact on blood sugar levels and insulin release in the body. They are incompletely absorbed from the small intestine into the blood and as a result, they have a lesser impact on blood glucose levels. Some of the polyol that is not absorbed into the blood is broken down into fatty acids in the large intestine and sugar alcohols do contain calories, about three-fourths as many as sugar. Since they are incompletely absorbed by the intestine, over-consumption may produce a laxative effect in some people. Sugar alcohols can also act as "trigger foods," causing carbohydrate cravings or binges and there is some evidence to suggest that products containing polyols may actually defer weight loss efforts. In some people, sugar alcohols can have uncomfortable side effects, such as bloating and gas. Some diabetics also report elevated blood sugars when eating some low carbohydrate products, particularly sugar alcohol containing candies.
So is the "Low Carb" diet or diets the answer for weight loss and glucose control. As a biochemist, I would have to say no. Because different carbohydrates absorb differently in individuals, you can not count on those types of food and calumniated absorption rates. The only way that you can tell what that food, and combinations of foods will do to your body, it to actually test the blood in 15 minute increments for a period of 2 to 3 hours. If your blood remains steady, then that food, that amount of food, or that combination of food will not be detrimental.
Along with many scientists in this field, I too have written the FDA to appeal for better labeling for the public. The "Low-Carb" label is deceptive and damaging for those who rely on blood glucose control for quality of life. To say that a product is Low-Carb doesn't mean that it is low in calories, will not affect your blood sugar, or is even healthy. As a matter of fact, most of the time's when something suggests that it is "Low-Carb" it is a product that should be heavily scrutinized and avoided.
And as far as the new craze of Glycemic Index or Glucose diet. This is a very expensive diet to be on because of the supply of Glucometers, Glucose Sticks and time it takes to test, but a much safer method and more conclusive method of dieting in order to keep your carbohydrate intake under control and your blood sugar under control. As a scientist the only problem that I have with the GI or Canadian diet is that products and manufacturers who label a product as low, medium or High Glycemic Index do not have a standard of calculating those numbers. There are 8 different ways to calculate what a Glycemic Index is, and none of them are wrong. Some are more correct than others, but depending on what method you use, algebraic or Calculus and for what you are testing for, will determine if those numbers are correct. Don't get me wrong, Glycemic Indexing is much more correct than calculating "net carbs" or determining if something is "Low Carb", because you have proven results from a field of subjects to tell you how the product will be absorb from true blood glucose numbers. Because this method allows you to see actual results from what was ingested, you can believe that you are eating right and maintaining better health.
For the most part, people ask me about Dieting because they want to be thin and healthy, but being healthy is not just about this diet or that diet. Being healthy has to do with lifestyle more than anything else. Eating a diet of functional foods, healthy foods, non-processed foods, being active and interactive, and being relaxed and well rested has a lot to do with how your body will respond as far as health is concerned.
Do I recommend a "Diet", not necessarily, what I recommend is a lifestyle for better health that is as individual as the person it is designed for. How do you do that? You need to not only look at your body type, but your genetic background, your personality and your day to day habits. You can work on your taste in foods first. To get away from the sweets, salt and processing, you can start by eliminating the processed foods out of your diet. Remember when you had "home cooked meals from scratch", a salad "out of the garden", made Jams and Jellies from the fruit off the trees in Grandma's yard? These tasted better and were better than those we buy off the shelf now days. It takes a lot of time, but the time spent in eating better will pay off in the retirement years. The next step would be to get active, exercise, go for a walk everyday, chase your children around the yard with a football, walk the mall with your daughters or your grand baby in a stroller, ride your bikes as a family, play soccer in the backyard with your kids, play a game of catch with your son, all these will improve your bodies response to some many things. Start slow with things, take your personality and your job into account so that it will be a lifestyle of habit and happiness, not a routine of forced misery.
D.S. Epperson is the top formulator for Home Blend Gourmet / South Pacific Health, a leader in the functional food industry in the U.S.. With 20 years of experience in Nutritional Biochemistry, she has written reference books on botanicals and manufacturing of medicines from botanicals, and published articles on health, fitness and foods. She has formulated over 240 formulas and inventions for health, the environment and agricultural uses, and continues to research and study microbial advantages in nutraceuticals and functional foods.