Cholesterol and the Atkins Diet

If you’re on the Atkins diet, you’ve probably wondered about it’s effects on your health, and perhaps specifically thought “I want to know how to lower my cholesterol“. Those that follow a lower-carbohydrate, but potentialy higher-in-fat diet for weight maintenance, are wise to keep track of fat-intake related complications like their cholesterol level.

However, while that’s still a good idea, a recent study (courtesy NIH) seems to indicate that, within reason, dieters participating in these types of diets (Atkins, Ornish, South Beach), can maintain a healthy cholesterol level.

The purpose of the study was to compare the effects of the Atkins, Ornish, and South Beach diet plans against several risk factors (particularly for heart disease), for dieters that were not significantly overweight.  This narrowed the scope of the study to those on the diet for weight maintenance purposes and not the initial weight loss.

The study followed eighteen adults, none of whom were overweight.  Each participant followed one of the three aforementioned diets for 30 days, followed by a 30 day period in which they dropped the diet, and ate as they normally did.  If, during any phase, a participant started to lose weight, calories were added to the current diet.

The study included regular blood testing for risk factors, including LDL cholesterol, triglyceride levels, and C-reactive proteins, which are indicitive of inflammation.

The study found that while partaking in a lower-carb, higher-fat diet, the LDL cholesterol level did increase, but only a small amount.  One of the primary researchers running the study, Dr Michael Miller, had the following to say in an interview with WebMD:

“If you are losing weight on a diet, that is probably beneficial for your health no matter which of these diets you follow”

He did, however, perhaps noting the small difference in LDL levels observed on the Atkin’s diet, have this observation:

“Once someone has established a weight they are comfortable with, does it matter which diet they follow?…it appears that it does.”

Or, in plain english, he’s saying that perhaps the Ornish Diet or South Beach diet might be healthier than Atkins for a long-term maintenance program.  Our takeaway is a little different.   Since there’s really very little difference between these three diets, the researches probably took advantage of the fact that Atkin’s allows unrestricted consumption of higher fat foods like bacon, pork rinds, butter, etc.  It’s likely that a slightly stricter subset of Atkins, focusing on leaner meats and smaller portions would have had no health impact.


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