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Body Watch

Carbo Unloading

Up with beef, down with pasta? That's what some books and dieters say. But other experts beg to differ.

September 11, 1996|WENDY LIN | NEWSDAY

As far as weight-reducing diets are concerned, Ila Scheckner has been there, done that.

Candy-bar diets, liquid diets--you name it, she's done it, maybe 15 times over. Last year, the 29-year-old, 5-foot-2-inch woman ballooned to 170 pounds after the birth of her son. She went to see a weight-loss expert, who told her the problem was her blood-sugar level and severely limited her pasta intake and forced her to eat three meals of protein a day.

It has changed her life.

"I lost weight so quickly and easily, I honestly don't remember it," said Scheckner, of Port Washington, N.Y., now that she has shed her pregnancy weight and more. She has lost 30 pounds and is as thin as she has ever been as an adult. "Finally, for the first time in my life I feel that I can control my eating. I will never, ever, ever, ever be fat again."

Scheckner is one of many new converts to an old way of dieting--eating plenty of protein and all but banishing bread, pasta and potatoes.

Scheckner follows Adele Puhn's "The 5-Day Miracle Diet" (Ballantine, 1996). That diet and other high-protein, low-carbohydrate diets such as Barry Sears' best-selling "The Zone," (HarperCollins), "Healthy for Life," by Richard and Rachel Heller (Dutton), "Protein Power," by Michael and Mary Dan Eades (Bantam), and "Dr. Atkins' New Diet Revolution," by Robert Atkins (Evans) are promising weight loss, increased energy, better athletic performance and no hunger cravings.

More important, they allow people to eat meat again--sometimes in unlimited quantities, as the Eadeses recommend--while warning of the dangers of carbohydrate consumption.

For years, the U.S. government and nutritionists have been recommending a diet based on six to 11 servings of bread, cereal, rice or pasta; two to four servings of fruit; three to five servings of vegetables; two to three servings of milk, yogurt or cheese; two to three servings of meat, poultry, fish, dried beans, eggs and nuts; and only a small amount of fats, oils and sweets.

But more Americans than ever are overweight. Clearly, something is wrong. And the new diet advisors are blaming low-fat diets that emphasize carbohydrates.

"We've been sold a bill of goods," said Michael Eades, who runs a weight-loss clinic in Little Rock, Ark. "We've all been participants in a two-decade study that says low-fat diets are good for you. For the most part, the people who have done real well on our diet have been the refugees from the low-fat camp."

But most nutritionists are sticking to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's food pyramid and insist that the new diets are nothing more than a passing fad that is unhealthy and ineffective.

"I can't tell you how many times I've heard this before," said Bonnie Liebman, a nutritionist at the Center for Science in the Public Interest. "I've seen high-protein diets sell like hot cakes and I've seen them ultimately fail. Somehow it makes it easier for people to cut out an entire class of foods when they diet. It'll help them lose weight because it cuts down on their calories, but it will not help you keep the weight off."

What makes the new diets different from the high-protein diets, including one by Atkins, which were popular in the early 1970s, is the concept of managing the body's insulin level and keeping the blood-sugar level stable.

Carbohydrates are bad, said Michael Eades, because they can trigger the body to produce more insulin, which, in turn, encourages it to store more fat. Many unsuccessful dieters, he said, are insulin-resistant--meaning their bodies don't recognize insulin easily and they must produce more insulin for their bodies to respond. Starving the body of carbohydrates, he reasons, can set the system right again.

The Hellers warn against a similar threat: hyperinsulinemia, or "Profactor-H."

Nutritionists discredit the theory. "There are a small amount of people who are insulin-resistant," Liebman said. "But there is no evidence that insulin makes you fatter."

Josephine Schoonen, a nutritionist with the department of family medicine at Stony Brook Medical Center in New York and a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Assn., believes the diet could be dangerous, although it might take weight off initially.

"Some of these diets are so low in carbohydrates that you really run the risk of not getting enough fiber and vitamins," Schoonen said. "You will lose a lot of weight initially, but most of it will be from water in your cells."

Added Liebman: "These diets are not healthy. Unfortunately, if you tell people they have a choice between being thin and being healthy, they would choose being thin."

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