Book Review: Atkins Diabetes Revolution

I must give credit to Dr. Robert C. Atkins for popularizing an approach – carbohydrate restriction – that helps people with diabetes control their disease, and likely helps prevent type 2 diabetes in others.  Mary C. Vernon and Jacqueline Eberstein do a great job explaining his program in their 2004 book, Atkins Diabetes Revolution: The Groundbreaking Approach to Preventing and Controlling Type 2 Diabetes

On the Amazon.com five-star rating scale, I give this book four stars.

I can best summarize this book by noting that it is the standard Atkins diet with a few modifications: 1) special supplements  2) you add additional carbs to your diet more slowly  3) the warning that diabetics may well end up with a lower acceptable lifetime carbohydrate intake level.

By way of review, the Atkins diet is a very low-carb diet, particularly in the two-week induction phase.  “Very low-carb” means lots of meat, chicken, fish, eggs, limited cheese, and 2-3 cups daily of salad greens and low-carb veggies like onions, tomatoes, broccoli, and snow peas.  After induction phase, you slowly add back carbs on a weekly basis until weight loss stalls, then you cut back on carbs.

As an adult medicine specialist, I have no expertise in pediatrics.  I didn’t read the two chapters related to children.

The authors present “complimentary medicine”in a favorable light.  Unsuspecting readers need to know that much of complementary medicine is based on hearsay and anecdote, not science-based evidence.  In that same vein, the two chapters on supplements for diabetes and heart disease recommend a cocktail of supplements that I’m not convinced are needed.  I don’t know a single endocrinologist or cardiologist prescribing these concoctions.  Then again, I could be wrong.   

Vernon and Eberstein provide two excellent chapters on exercise.

A month of meal plans and recipes are provided for 20, 40, and 60-gram carbohydrate levels.  [The average American is eating 250-300 g of carbs daily.]  The recipes look quick and easy, but I didn’t prepare or taste any of them.

The 5-hour glucose and insulin tolerance test (GTT, paged 61) that Dr. Atkins reportedly ran on all patients who came to him is rarely done in other medical clinics.  This doesn’t mean it’s wrong, but certainly out of the mainstream.  The authors admit that at least a few people will have to count calories – specifically, limit total calories – if the basic program doesn’t control diabetes, prediabetes, and the metabolic syndrome.  Limiting portion size will speed weight loss, they write.

What we don’t know with certainty is, will long-term Atkins aficionados miss out on the health benefits of higher consumption of fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains?  Much of the scientific literature suggests, “Yes.”

What if we compare the long-term outlooks of a diabetic Atkins follower with a poorly controlled diabetic who’s 80 pounds overweight and eating a standard American diet?  The Atkins follower is quite likely to be healthier  and live longer.

Steve Parker, M.D.

 

 

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