We’ve always said it – science is the basis for our nutritional approach. In order to continue to educate people about the growing body of emerging research highlighting the health benefits associated with the principles of the Atkins Nutritional Approach, as well as the development of new products, Atkins created a multi-disciplinary Science Advisory Board that includes nationally known experts in the fields of nutrition, metabolism, physiology and food science.
The Science Advisory Board advises Atkins on the latest scientific findings and medical studies. Each member of the board provides ongoing expert counsel to Atkins as we continue to help people achieve their weight loss and weight management goals.
At the most recent quarterly meeting of the Atkins Science Advisory Board (SAB), we participated in several fascinating conversations I’d like to share with you. I’ll start with the observations and presentations of two SAB members. If you enjoy them, I can tell you about other members’ presentations in my next blog.
Elizabeth Parks, Ph.D.
A professor of clinical nutrition at the University of Texas, Dr. Parks observed that consumers are increasingly interested in avoiding the consumption of high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS). The SAB members agreed that Atkins Nutritionals might have had a positive influence in influencing the attitudes of both government officials and the public at large about the importance of reducing consumption of these processed sugars.
Dr. Parks commented that ever since the American Academy of Pediatrics’ policy statement in 2004 advocated limiting soft drink availability in schools, public restrictions on the availability and use of HFCS has tightened. From 2003 to 2007, the trend toward removing vending machines that dispense beverages made with HFCS from schools has gained traction in school districts in large metropolitan areas such as Los Angeles and Seattle.
On the research front, scientific papers demonstrating the adverse health effects of consuming sugars have increased. Widespread media attention typically follows publication of such studies. Examples include Peter Havel’s presentation at the American Diabetes association meeting, which showed that higher intake of HFCS increased belly fat, and Dr. Parks’ own recent publication of a study demonstrating the rapid conversion of fructose to body fat.
On the international stage, in Mexico, a 20 percent “sin tax” on beverages that contain HFCS has been proposed. Although to date, the proposal has not has not been passed into law—it's up for another vote this month—the government’s health minister is already making efforts to restrict the sale of foods containing HFCS. In this country, the USDA Outlook Forum has scheduled a program in the spring of 2009 to look at changes in corn syrup prices and use of HFCS in the food market.
One positive side effect of the hike in oil prices is that it has increased the value of corn for producing the biofuel ethanol, which has caused the price of HFCS to increase for the first time. As a result, the use of HFCS by the food and beverage industry is economically less attractive, and the industries are more aggressively looking for alternatives.
Dr. Parks believes that the Corn Refiners Association (CRA) media campaign, launched last month, is, in part, a response to these trends. The campaign’s strategy is to present HFCS as no different from table sugar (sucrose) and as completely safe when consumed in moderation. You may have seen the CRA commercials on national television recently. Print ads are also running in The New York Times and other newspapers. With your greater understanding of how HFCS affects your body, you may regard the media effort differently than the CRA intends.
Jeff Volek, Ph.D., R.D.
A dietician and professor of kinesthesiology at the University of Connecticut, Dr. Volek described the experimental results of his laboratory work, pointing to carbohydrate restriction as an alternative or adjunct to other approaches in the treatment of metabolic syndrome. Treatment of this condition generally requires multiple drugs, which nonetheless have had only limited success. In short, carbohydrate restriction uniquely targets all three features of metabolic syndrome: high triglycerides, abdominal fat and insulin resistance.
Work underway in Dr. Volek's laboratory has also shown that during both weight-loss and weight-maintenance phases on a controlled- carbohydrate diet, there is significantly less saturated fat circulating in the blood of controlled-carb subjects than in the blood of individuals following a low-fat diet. It may be counterintuitive, but this means that subjects who ate more saturated fat had less of it circulating in their blood than did subjects who ate less saturated fat. In short, controlling carbs mitigates the effects of consuming saturated fat.
Finally, Dr. Volek in another study investigated whether the quality of fat mattered on a low carbohydrate diet when individuals are not losing weight. His team found that a very low-carbohydrate diet that is supplemented with omega-3 fatty acids (EPA and DHA) results in an even better fatty acid composition profile in the blood. This is very preliminary, but may indicate that a controlled-carbohydrate diet that emphasizes monounsaturated fat and omega-3 fatty acids and slightly lower saturated fatty acid consumption is an ideal way to eat when an individual is no longer losing weight.
If you find these updates from researchers on the front lines of nutritional science as interesting as I do, let me know, and I’ll bring you more of the latest news from the Atkins Science Advisory Board next week.