There's a long, extremely detailed, and wonderfully informative article on low-fat versus low-carbohydrate diets, "What If It's All Been A Big Fat Lie?", in Sunday's New York Times Magazine. Has the medical establishment failed to properly investigate the type of diet originally advocated by Dr. Robert Atkins in 1972? Can we trace our current obsession with low-fat diets not to medical evidence but to a Senate committee's decision?
If the alternative hypothesis [that low-fat diet contribute to obesity] is right -- still a big ''if'' -- then it strongly suggests that the ongoing epidemic of obesity in America and elsewhere is not, as we are constantly told, due simply to a collective lack of will power and a failure to exercise. Rather it occurred, as Atkins has been saying (along with Barry Sears, author of "The Zone"), because the public health authorities told us unwittingly, but with the best of intentions, to eat precisely those foods that would make us fat, and we did. We ate more fat-free carbohydrates, which, in turn, made us hungrier and then heavier. Put simply, if the alternative hypothesis is right, then a low-fat diet is not by definition a healthy diet. In practice, such a diet cannot help being high in carbohydrates, and that can lead to obesity, and perhaps even heart disease. ''For a large percentage of the population, perhaps 30 to 40 percent, low-fat diets are counterproductive,'' says Eleftheria Maratos-Flier, director of obesity research at Harvard's prestigious Joslin Diabetes Center. ''They have the paradoxical effect of making people gain weight.''Is this true? I've believed in (and usually followed) the low-fat theory for years now, usually (though not always) with success. After losing a good deal of weight 12 years ago, I've kept most of it off most of that time... though it has certainly been hard. When Ray Kurzweil wrote glowingly of ultra-low-fat diets in The 10% Solution for a Healthy Life, I thought I had all the validation I would ever need. Could it all be wrong?
At last, multiple studies of Atkins-type diets are underway. Though some early results have been reported, we may not have reliable, reproducible results from large-scale tests for another five years or more. What do we do in the meantime?