Low-carbohydrate diets, such as the Atkins and South Beach diets, are based on the proposition that it’s not fat that makes you fat.
Allowing dieters to eat steak, butter, eggs, bacon, and other high-fat foods, these diets instead outlaw starches and refined carbohydrates on the theory that they are metabolized so quickly that they lead to hunger and overeating. This theory, which was first popularized in the nineteenth century, came under scathing criticism from the medical establishment during the early 1970s when Dr. Robert Atkins published the phenomenally popular low-carb diet bearing his name. According to the American Medical Association (AMA), the Atkins diet was a “bizarre regimen” that advocated “an unlimited intake of saturated fats and cholesterol-rich foods” and therefore presented a considerable risk of heart disease. Most doctors recommended instead a diet low in fat and high in carbohydrates, with plenty of grains, fruits, and vegetables and limited red meat or dairy products.This became the received wisdom during the 1980s, at the same time that the U.S. waistline began to expand precipitously. As dieters found that weight loss was difficult to maintain on a low-fat diet, low-carb diets regained popularity—with as many as 30 million people trying a low-carb diet in 2003. Several small-scale studies began to suggest that a low-carb diet may indeed be effective and may not have the deleterious effects its detractors have claimed; other research found that any benefits of a low-carb diet are short-lived, and that the negative effects will take decades to become evident. The National Institutes of Health has pledged $2.5 million for a five-year study of the Atkins diet with 360 subjects.