Atkins promoters say dieters should cut saturated fats

Scientists' criticism of possible health risks leads group to clarify plan

January 18, 2004|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

After advising dieters for years to satisfy their hunger with liberal amounts of steak, eggs and other saturated fats, the promoters of the Atkins diet now say that people on their plan should limit the amount of red meat and saturated fat they eat.

Responding to years of criticism from scientists that the Atkins version of a low-carbohydrate, high-fat regimen might lead to heart disease and other health problems, the director of research and education for Atkins Nutritionals, Colette Heimowitz, is telling health professionals in seminars around the country that only 20 percent of a dieter's calories should come from saturated fat. Atkins Nutritionals was set up by Dr. Robert C. Atkins to sell Atkins products and promote the diet.

An Atkins spokesman said that Heimowitz has been giving these seminars for five years and that they do not represent a departure from the original premise of the diet.

Atkins representatives say that Atkins, who died last year, always maintained that people should eat foods besides red meat, but had difficulty getting that message out. There has been a revision in expressing how to follow the diet, not in the diet itself, they say.

But officials have not made the revision clear to consumers, and Atkins is widely known as the diet that lets you eat all the meat you want.

The change comes as Atkins faces competition from other popular low-carbohydrate diets that call for less saturated fat.

The Atkins regimen remains a high-fat diet. But Atkins officials are increasing the amount that should be unsaturated, the kind that comes from most vegetable oils and fish, rather than saturated, the kind that comes from meat, cheese and butter, which has been linked to heart disease and other problems. The revision places more emphasis on fish and chicken.

The clarification came as a surprise to Atkins dieters who were interviewed.

"A lot of people will be totally shocked," said Ellen Bain, a graphic designer in Brooklyn. The message she said she had taken away from reading Atkins books and Web sites was: "The fat in the diet is very good for you; it doesn't make any difference what kind of fat it is. There are no limits of any kind in the meat department, like steak and eggs for breakfast, a burger for lunch and beef stir-fry for dinner."

Russ Klein, a marketing executive who has been on Atkins since Dec. 21, interpreted the phrase "foods you may eat liberally" to mean "eat until you are full." And, he added, "I think it's probably true you can eat all the red meat you want."

Heimowitz said people read the phrase "eat liberally" as a license to gorge on red meat. "Not making a distinction between one kind of protein and another, that was a mistake," Heimowitz said, "and that is why we had to write another book, to get the story straight."

But, she added, "Even in the old book it says, `Eat until you are satisfied but not stuffed.'"

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