Battle of the Diets
A study from the Journal of the American College
of Nutrition examined eight of the top diet programs in the country.
Specifically, researchers looked at the long-term impact of these
diet patterns, using a standard daily caloric intake of 2,000 calories
for all diets. Id like to focus on their findings for the
five most well known: Atkins, Sugar Busters, the Zone, Ornish, and
The Atkins diet is a high protein/high fat diet
that is based on the premise that weight gain and obesity are caused
by insulin resistance and hyperinsulinism. In an effort to circumvent
these conditions, this diet restricts carbohydrate intake to less
than 20 grams a day. While Atkins allows women to eat unlimited
amounts of meat, fish, poultry, eggs, and cheese, it discourages
consumption of fruit, bread, grains, starchy veggies like corn and
carrots, refined sugar, and most dairy products.
Like Atkins, the Sugar Busters plan is high in
protein; however, unlike Atkins, it recommends a more moderate fat
intake. Additionally, Sugar Busters believes that sugar is
toxic and maintains that insulin insensitivity causes obesity
and type-2 diabetes. Therefore, it strives to reduce high-glycemic
carbohydrates in order to lower insulin levels by encouraging consumption
of lean meats, eggs, most fruit, nuts, whole grains, and high-fiber,
non-starchy veggies. However, it discourages eating any refined
grains (such as regular potatoes, white rice, and white bread),
refined sugar, root veggies, and baked goods. It does, however,
allow red wine.
The Zone program is also high in protein, focusing
on lean protein sources such as fish, poultry, and low-fat dairy
products. It too discourages most grains and breads, starchy veggies,
and some fruit. However, unlike Atkins, the Zone allows moderately
restricted carbohydrates, and advocates against eating egg yolks,
red meat, most cheeses, and butter.
The final two programs Ornish and Pritikin
are both low fat, high carbohydrate plans. The Ornish diet
suggests that weight gain is a result of too much dietary fat. Based
on this, the program emphasizes a plant-based, vegetarian diet that
allows all vegetables and fruits, beans, legumes, and whole grains,
but advises against consuming any meat, fish, or poultry, as well
as alcohol, butter, and high-fat fruits and vegetables such as olives
The Pritikin diet encourages you to have at least
75 percent of your calories come from complex carbohydrates, and
only allows for 1015 percent of your caloric intake to be
comprised of protein, leaving just 510 percent for fats. It
does this by recommending that most of your foods be plant-based
and high in fiber, coming from whole grains, fruits, and vegetables.
It limits you to 4 ounces of animal-based protein a day, and discourages
consumption of red meat, fatty poultry and fish, egg yolks, most
dairy products, and honey.
The Skinny on High Protein Plans
I believe that all five diets have pluses and minuses
in terms of womens health. On the plus side, there is emerging
evidence that diets higher in protein do work, in part by helping
to regulate blood sugar and insulin levels within the body. In a
2003 study from the Journal of Nutrition, subjects were divided
into two groups and fed two different diets for 10 weeks. While
both diets had about 1,700 calories, and included the same amount
of fat and fiber intake, they varied according to the amount of
daily protein. The first group consumed 68 grams of protein per
day, while the other group ate 125 grams a day. At the end of the
study, those women who ate less protein had insulin levels that
were double the fasting level, and 40 percent higher than those
of subjects who ate a diet higher in protein. Women on the higher
protein diet also enjoyed blood sugar levels that were more stable
than those who ate less protein.
However, this may be the good thing I can say about
these programs. The fact of the matter is that these plans put women
at high risk for inflammatory diseases and estrogen dominance-related
conditions, increase your risk for osteoporosis and coronary heart
disease (CHD), and can even worsen existing kidney conditions.
While these plans do limit your intake of some
false fat offenders such as wheat, dairy, and refined sugar, the
high saturated fat intake of the programs, especially the Atkins
plan, increases your risk of inflammatory diseases, such as rheumatoid
arthritis and endometriosis. They also increase your risk for developing
estrogen dominance-related conditions such as fibroid tumors by
elevating estrogen levels within the body. Research studies have
found that vegetarian women eating a low fat, high fiber diet excrete
two to three times more estrogen in their bowel movements, and have
50 percent lower blood levels of estrogen than women eating a diet
high in dairy and animal fats. Bacteria in the colon actually convert
metabolites of cholesterol to forms of estrogen that can be reabsorbed
from the digestive tract back into the body.
Additionally, the high protein content of these
diets increases your risk of osteoporosis in susceptible women with
low bone density by causing loss of minerals from the bones. While
adequate protein intake is essential to bone health, excessive protein,
especially from red meat and dairy products, can lead to bone loss
by increasing your bodys acid load, forcing it to pull valuable
calcium and other alkalinizing minerals from your bones in order
to bring the pH of your blood and tissues back into balance.
Finally, the Atkins plan puts women at a huge risk
for CHD and developing elevated cholesterol, due to the fact that
its likely to increase your serum cholesterol levels. And
all three programs can increase your risk of poor kidney function.
According to a March 2003 study from the Annals of Internal Medicine,
a diet high in nondairy animal protein may accelerate kidney function
decline in women who have an existing kidney condition, even a minor
The Low-down on Low Fat, High Carbs
The focus on whole grains and vegetables in the
Ornish and Pritikin diets can be a huge health boon for women. The
fiber in whole grains, legumes, fruits, and vegetables helps to
lower your risk for estrogen dominance by binding to estrogen in
your intestines and helping to remove it through elimination. The
fiber also produces bulkier stools with a higher water content,
thereby helping to eliminate excessive fluid from the body.
These diets are also beneficial to bone health,
again due to the preponderance of vegetables, grains, and legumes,
all of which are rich in alkaline minerals needed for healthy bones.
Finally, these programs support heart health by lowering serum cholesterol
levels, and thereby significantly lowering your risk for CHD.
There is however a pretty significant problem with
these programs. While they are rich in the plant-based fiber and
many vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that are absolutely necessary
for optimal health, they lack many of the essential nutrients needed
for good health and well-being, specifically essential fatty acids
(EFAs) and vitamin B12.
The lack of EFAs could have a negative effect on
ovulation, menstruation, and menstrual cramps in younger women.
In older women, lack of oils may lead to dry skin, hair, and vaginal
tissues, and could increase your risk for depression, fatigue, and
inflammatory conditions. Similarly, low dietary intake of B12 can
lead to fatigue, depression, and anemia.
Lastly, it may be difficult for women following
these diets to take in sufficient amounts of protein from vegetarian
sources. This can lead to fatigue, low energy, insufficient immune
function, and poor exercise tolerance.
If you are still interested in following one of
these plans, I would recommend that you first determine your pH
type. Most women fall into one of two categories high
alkaline producer or overly acidic.
As a rule, women who are high-alkaline producers:
- Can usually digest spicy foods well.
- Feel tired and lethargic after eating a meal
high in carbohydrates.
- Become energized after eating a meal high in
- Are able to eat acidic fruits such as lemons
- Do not suffer digestive upset after drinking
moderate amounts of alcohol.
If you are a high alkaline producer, and therefore
need more protein than carbohydrates in order to operate efficiently,
I recommend that you follow a modified form of either the Atkins,
Zone, or Sugar Busters programs. Specifically, you should avoid
or at least minimize the red meat allowed in some of these diets,
and opt instead for free-range poultry or fish. I would also suggest
using olive oil or flaxseed oil instead of butter, and I would strongly
suggest substituting soy cheeses and yogurts for their dairy counterparts.
This will help to promote sufficient moisture to the skin and tissues,
as well as provide you with the anti-inflammatory benefits of EFAs.
Finally, youll need to take a good, high-potency multinutrient
if you follow these programs, due to the low amount of carbohydrates,
which are often your best sources of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants,
and other essential nutrients.
For the many women who tend toward over-acidity,
extended use of the Atkins, Zone, or Sugar Busters diets would be
nothing short of a health tragedy. Overly acidic women need a more
vegetarian emphasis. Therefore, a program such as Ornishs
may work for you, but you will need to modify it so that 20 percent
of your total caloric intake comes from EFAs in the form of healthy
oils (olive oil, flaxseed oil, etc.). Youll also need to add
a little more animal-based protein in the form of fish, eggs, and
free-range poultry, or at least include a well-balanced vegetarian
protein powder that you can add to shakes or smoothies. Finally,
you should take a good, high-potency multinutrient, and supplement
with at least 300 mg of omega-3 fatty acids per day, and 100500
mg of B12 a day.