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Welcome all seeking refuge from low carb dogma!

“To kill an error is as good a service as, and sometimes even better than, the establishing of a new truth or fact”
~ Charles Darwin (it's evolutionary baybeee!)

Saturday, March 13, 2010

The New Atkins ~ My Review

This post is a general review of: The New Atkins for a New You by Drs. Westman, Phinney, and Volek.

I probably haven't posted enough here to expose my sometimes cynical side of low carb eating, but if there are any visitors from the LC-www who recognize me, you've probably have seen this side of me.  I didn't expect to learn anything groundbreakingly new in this book but was curious to see what was updated and how it was presented by these respected researchers.  Overall, I was pleasantly surprised.

Overall Rating:   ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼

The Good: 

  • Reads well
  • Well organized
  • Success stories are separated (so folks like me can skip over them ), and appear to avoid the sensational (based on my skimming of a few).
  • Referenced throughout
  • Encouraging
  • Lays out the plan clearly
  • Focuses on long term way of life over a "diet"
  • Acknowledges that for Maintenance there are two paths -- one of which being maintaining a significantly restricted carb intake for life. 
  • Less obsession over the measly carbs in LC veggies.
  • Addresses that high fat doesn't mean eat all the fat you can:  see Savor, Don't Smother
  • Establishes protein guidelines by height/gender and lifestyle rather than as a fixed percentage of intake.The science section is comforting and a good resource for low carbers to discuss with their doctors.  It doesn't overreach for the most part.
  • Acknowledges calories more than just in passing and avoids some of the more controversial claims (burn more calories on LC, inability to gain weight) prevalent in the LC community.

The Bad: 


  • "The Atkins Edge":  I guess they had to do it, but this time they speak of this fat-burning "edge" in round-about and nebulous ways.  Whereas Atkins identified the CCL as being in ketosis or not, there is no mention of ketones in the actual dietary plan and determination of the CCL.

  • Fat Burning Theory:  WP&V know that they can't justify the overly simplified insulin theory in its most rabid form.  Presumably along with the CCL and general structure of the diet, the authors were tasked with re-inventing the fat storage/insulin theory in a way so as to make it more palatable to the mainstream.  On this they succeed, but the underlying theory, while sounding more credible and far less sensational, doesn't hold water.  We all burn glucose and fats for energy at all times in different proportions.  Burning more fat when dietary fat is the majority source is a big Katie Couric "duh", and carbs do not shut down fat oxidation completely.  I'll expand on this in another post.

  • Sugar Alcohols: A HUGE thumbs down on this topic. IMO, the most fraudulent practice in the LC field is the total subtraction of SA's in the calculation of net carbs and WP&V advocate this.  I imagine this was quite a point of contention between the powers that be at Atkins Nutritionals and these three respected researchers, and in the end, I can't help but feel they sold out on this point.  I'll expand on this in another post. 

  • Over-reaching with some of the claims.  I have been making my way through the citations and have found several instances where the citation does not back up the statement made in the book.  Also, when an author says "many" or "several" and refers to studieS in the plural, such statements should be followed by more than one reference.  More than once, such statements in the book are followed by a single reference.  I'll address these in future posts.  UPDATE:  In re-checking, I now see that sometimes they use one footnote number to cite a few references.  In the first case of this that caught my eye, I now see 3 articles cited with one footnote.  However I still have reservations regarding this sampling of studies.
  • Their almost unnatural obsession over the carbs in lemon juice.  So much so, that lemon juice is mentioned in Rung 7 (tomato & veggie juice).  They repeatedly obsess over the 2.5 net carbs in 2T of lemon juice.  I'm not sure what the other carbs are in lemon juice, but nutritiondata.com lists 1c. (16T) of lemon juice as having 6g sugar.  I've never known anyone to sabotage their weight loss with lemon juice.  This strange obsession would be understandable if they were even remotely as diligent counting the carbs of sugar alcohols, but xylitol is a recommended sweetener.  Granted they count packets as 1g/pkt but there are more grams of carbs in xylitol.

  • I find the advice on stalls to be sorely lacking.

  • Vegetarian Atkins:  IMO, they should have just left this to the so-called "eco-Atkins" folks and let AtNu fight with them over the brand name.  It is simply impossible to include veggie proteins into this plan and stay within carb limits.  So an ovo lacto vegetarian can do the "real" Atkins by eating a lot of eggs and cheese, and Atkins just isn't for the rest.
The Ambivalent:


  •  I really do like the long term focus of the book, but I find the Pre-Maintenance phase almost laughable in its length and detail.  Really, I've not seen where many LC'ers have had to worry about losing too much weight.  Way more are like me and find themselves plateauing out way above a normal goal weight.

  • Protein Confusion:  As mentioned above, I like that their protein recs are based on a gram amount for height and gender.  Still, the ranges are fairly wide so in a way, this rec is not all that helpful.  They also seem defensive that the diet is not "high protein".  But rather than obsessing over this, they should "do the math" and realize that, especially for many of us women, "high protein" it is indeed!  Their recs also are confusing.  Feeling satisfied?  No -- eat more protein (and fat).  Stalled? -- Maybe you're eating too much protein (and fat). 

  • Calorie Confusion:  There are several places in the book where I detect a careful dance on the part of the authors as they try to marry what they know is the truth with what Atkins has said in the past.  In this regard, I would have preferred a book written by these three independent of the Atkins brand.  They acknowledge calories quite often, but the message seems mixed.

  • As someone who only became truly obese after my first two failed attempts at LC, I think it is important to not just suggest that maintenance may mean staying VLC for life, but warn would be LC'ers of this aspect. The web is full of long term die hard low carbers. Seems to me, these folks have gotten more extreme (zero carb, intermittent fasting) as time goes by rather than moving up the rungs. A sort of "buyer beware" would be nice to see, but I put this commentary in the ambivalent section because I also acknowledge the reality of trying to sell a diet book. 

  • Some may find their take on fiber to go counter to their own beliefs.

  • Focus on repeat attempters:  Obviously any "New Atkins" must address the many returnees from prior stints on previous versions of the plan.  There's not a whole lot different planwise here.  Caffeine is now allowed on induction, veggies are pushed a bit more, and protein requirements are laid out on a gram basis.  But all too frequently the authors seem to address repeat attempters so were I reading this as my first exposure to Atkins I might be feeling like I'm missing something.

  • Atkins with a Latin Beat:  Clearly a book-selling ploy, but I see no reason to highight a particular cuisine.  Comes off cheesey to me.
So ... that's it for now.  I was pleasantly surprised by this book on the whole and will recommend it to anyone wishing to try, or re-try, an LC WOE.  Perhaps the 3-suns rating is a bit harsh, but I have enough issues with the book to deduct from the rating.  This is a fine step in the right direction towards legitimizing and/or mainstreaming low carbohydrate diets.  It could have been a bigger step had the researchers written this book independently.  Most of the ways it falls short seem to center around sticking with some of Atkins' theories just enough to "save face" and satisfy the brand name.  Had they not had to do that, I believe the book would have been stronger.  I also have problems with some of the research citations in the manner in which they are used.  These will be the subject of future posts.

4 comments:

kathy coe said...

Nice review! My sentiments exactly, I wish I would have known you had reviewed the book before I purchased it. I had no idea you had started a blog, I think your knowledge will enlighten many! I've enjoyed your insight on Jimmy's discussion group.

Me said...

Thanks Kathy! Perhaps I'll link to this review. I wasn't quite sure posting it over at LLVLC would have gone over too well. I started this blog b/c the labeling feature is helpful for me to collate and locate my huge body of LC research. Obviously I've got much more to put up here, and hope to throw up a few studies with or w/o comment as I have time. So I linked to it at Jimmy's forum and figured those that were interested would wander over.

Woodey said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Woodey said...

I never got around to reading Atkins, I don't think I missed much. I do find it interesting whenever a diet book gets reformatted with "new and improved" or something to that effect. Does that mean the previous was flawed and not very sound? If that's the case then why would I trust the new book?

I thought the Atkins vegetarian angle was very laughable. I know enough about nutrition that my common sense radar went off when I saw that.

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