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Group Calls Low-Carb Diet Unhealthy


(10-17-99: Atlanta, GA: [AP]) On a typical morning, Ron Glasgow eats a three-egg omelet and a 12-ounce package of bacon or a half-pound of ham. For the rest of the day, he can eat all the pork rinds, beef jerky, sausage and steak he wants.

After 11 months on this diet, he's gone from 425 to 330 pounds.

Glasgow and others claim to have shed stubborn fat by laying off carbohydrates and sugars. They stick to a menu of unlimited meat, cheese and eggs -- no sweets, rice, pasta or bread.

Many dietitians and health experts, 10,000 of whom will be in Atlanta this week for the American Dietetic Association's annual meeting, say the diet is an unhealthy fad and the weight loss is temporary.

The high-protein, no-carb plan is "a nightmare of a diet," said Kathleen Zelman, a registered dietitian and ADA spokeswoman. "At first, it sounds so alluring. You get the green light to eat these foods."

But she said the monotony soon gets old. Sure, you get the hamburger, but no bun or fries. You can eat a big steak, but forget the baked potato and tossed salad.

Plus, it's just unhealthy, nutritionists say. Along with the risk of increasing cholesterol levels, the diet could cause kidney problems or possibly a loss of calcium in the bones, Ms. Zelman said. Limiting the intake of carbohydrates to such a dramatically low level starves the body of needed nutrients and it causes an artificial metabolic state.

"Think of it on a global perspective -- the world at large survives on grains," Ms. Zelman said. "If we didn't have carbohydrates, we would not be able to survive. Bread is the staff of life."

The low-carb diet was first touted by Dr. Robert Atkins more than 20 years ago. Its popularity in the '90s has been attributed to his latest book "Dr. Atkins' New Diet Revolution," currently the best-selling mass market paperback in the country.

Glasgow, a 39-year-old computer support technician from Cumming, said the diet allows him to lose weight and continue to be a "big eater."

"I'm aware of some of the opponents, but for me right now, it seems to be working," he said.

Glasgow said he lost 100 pounds once before on a low-fat, high exercise diet. He took a two-month leave of absence from his job and exercised 6 to 8 hours a day. But when he switched to a more reasonable schedule, the weight stopped coming off and he went back to his old ways.

With studies showing exercise at an all-time low and more than half of all adults overweight, Americans are constantly searching for a way to slim down without drastically changing their lifestyles.

The increasing number of unhealthy and overweight adults and children is a particularly troubling issue the ADA will discuss at its four-day meeting, which starts Monday.

The group will also discuss food safety, children's health and reducing the risks of heart disease and colon cancer through diet.

Like other health organizations, the ADA maintains the only way to lose weight is through a healthy, well-balanced diet and exercise.

Atkins has dismissed criticism of his diet as "dietitian talk" and points out that many people have maintained their weight loss for years and lowered their cholesterol by following his plan.

Glasgow and others who've lost weight on the plan will probably gain it back, Ms. Zelman says. The initial weight loss occurs because, without carbohydrates, the body is forced to burn fat and protein for fuel -- but that creates fatigue. Also, the monotony of the diet gets some people to eat less.

Sooner or later, the dieter will have to go back to at least moderate carbohydrate consumption. When they do, the weight will likely return.

Her advice for anyone who considers going on the diet is to consult their doctor, drink plenty of fluids and take a multivitamin, mineral supplement.

"Realize it's a short-term fix," she said. "Ultimately, you will have to face reality of weight management."