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Vegan for the Holidays

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All the world is nuts about

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Vegetarians in Paradise
Vegetarianism in the News

May 1, 2004 -- Vegparadise News Bureau

Americans Face Constipation Threat
From South Beach and Atkins Dietary Terrorists

As millions of Americans embrace the South Beach and Atkins Diets, two of America's largest corporations are battling for a market once dominated by senior citizens: dietary laxatives. GlaxoSmithKline has created an advertising campaign for a younger audience in its ads for Citrucel, its fiber laxative that is "a zero-carb solution to a low carb problem." Not to be outdone, Proctor and Gamble responded with ads promising that Metamucil, its fiber laxative, will allow users to "Stay regular, the 0 carb way."

Because many Americans have gone carbohydrate crazy in diets like Atkins and South Beach that are low in fiber and high in fiber-less animal protein, they are less likely to face a big movement toward the bathroom. As a result, sales of fiber laxatives are booming.

In restaurants, homes, offices, and in radio and television ads, carbs is a common topic for a nation struggling with the consequences of obesity. For years fat was the enemy, but now South Beach and Atkins diet gurus are blaming obesity on carbs. Market shelves are filled with low carb products that have replaced the low fat items so prominent for years.

Bread sales are down. No one wants to buy potatoes. Orange juice sales are plummeting. Pasta makers are so panicky they have sponsored a conference of scientists and nutrition authorities to say that their product is healthy. On the other hand, eggs, formerly shunned for cholesterol, are selling briskly at prices higher than ever. In spite of mad cow news, meat sales are strong. Animal protein is king of the hill.

Diet terrorists attack
The two doctors behind this terrorist attack that is constipating the nation and turning the food industry upside down are Robert Atkins, author of The Dr. Atkins Diet Revolution, and Arthur Agatston , creator of The South Beach Diet. Atkins preaches the total elimination of carbs with a diet heavy on saturated fat from animal protein to create weight loss.

Jumping into the diet wars, Agatston in his The South Beach Diet (what we call Atkins Light) advocates a three-stage diet that begins by restricting carbs and featuring low fat animal protein. In the first two-week-long phase, pasta, bread, cereals, rice, dairy products, soy milk, alcohol, fruits and fruit juices, vegetables like beets, carrots, corn, potatoes, tomatoes, sweet potatoes, and yams are some of the items on the forbidden list.

Questions arise about the personal health of both doctors. Atkins death was supposedly the result of a fall, but doubts have surfaced about his health at the time of his death at age 72. According to the Wall Street Journal, a medical examiner's report said that Atkins had a history or heart disease and heart attacks. His weight of 258 pounds would have placed the 6-foot-tall doctor in the obese category, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

On page 95 of The South Beach Diet, Agatston admits that he takes statin drugs that are used to lower cholesterol. "I, personally, take aspirin, fish oil capsules, and a statin drug," he writes. In a discussion of the merits of statins, Agatston states that they reduce the production of cholesterol in the liver. He emphasizes that the benefits of taking statins far outweigh any potential hazards such as liver problems. Benecor is the only statin removed from the market "because of an unacceptable incidence of toxic reactions," says Agatston.

Many cardiologists take statins
"Most cardiologists I know over the age of 40 are taking a statin drug, even doctors with no sign or history of heart trouble," says Agatston. "The medication isn't cheap--annual cost is somewhere around $3000--but the results are worth it." Yet studies at the University of Toronto have shown that people on a high fiber vegetarian diet can reduce their cholesterol almost as much as people on statin drugs. See News from the Nest for more details.

In discussing other diets, Agatston mentions Dean Ornish's program that emphasizes "severe total fat restriction and liberal consumption of carbohydrates." He is critical of the Ornish program that he describes as too difficult to follow. The distinguishing characteristic of The South Beach Diet is that it is easy. There's no counting of calories and no portion control. The dieter just has to avoid the forbidden carbs and stay with low fat animal protein.

The first two weeks are the hardest. In the third week, the beginning of Phase 2, the dieter may introduce fruits except for the dreaded bananas, pineapple, raisins, watermelon, canned fruit and fruit juices. Some vegetables and legumes are reintroduced to the diet like pinto beans and black-eyed peas. Agatston mistakenly places barley in this category. (Barley is a grain, not a legume.) Remaining on the forbidden vegetable list are beets, carrots, corn, and potatoes.

Starches reemerge in Phase 2 with whole grain breads and bagels, high fiber cereals, sugar-free bran muffins, whole-wheat pasta, green peas, popcorn, small sweet potatoes, brown rice, and wild rice. Even small amounts of chocolate, fat-free pudding, and red wine, are permitted, but no ice cream, honey or jam.

Phase 2 continues until the person's weight loss goal is achieved. Phase 3 involves eating "normal foods" in normal portions. He characterizes it as "less like a diet and more like a way of life." If Phase 3 doesn't work, the person goes back to Phase 1.

In his analysis of The South Beach Diet, Dr. Joel Fuhrman, author of Eat to Live, criticizes it as a yo-yo diet with weight swings that can create health problems. He sees a plus in Agatston's demonizing of white flour and sugar in the American diet, but chastises him and Atkins for not replacing these carbs with nuts, legumes, fruits, and vegetables instead of recommending that people add more animal protein in their diets.

Vegans have low cholesterol without drugs
"The worst part about The South Beach Diet is the false claim about being heart healthy," says Fuhrman. Following this diet heavy in animal protein makes it impossible to achieve a favorable level of cholesterol. Fuhrman himself has a low cholesterol reading of 125 without using statin drugs. According to Fuhrman, vegans generally have a cholesterol level of approximately 125.

Quite astounding to read are statements that a person is better off eating ice cream or a chocolate bar instead of a baked potato because the glycemic index of a potato is higher than the other two. According to Agatston, the glycemic index "measures the degree to which eating a particular food increases your blood sugar and therefore contributes to weight gain."

More astonishing is the author's statement that eating a baked potato is less fattening when it is topped with low-fat cheese or sour cream than it is when eaten plain. Agatson says that even though the topped potato is higher in calories, the fat contained in the dairy toppings will supposedly slow down the digestive process and lessen the amount of insulin the body needs to produce.

Restaurants offer killer recipes
Part Two, or two-thirds of the book, is devoted to Meal Plans and Recipes for all three phases of the diet. Some of the recipes provided are from notable chefs from Florida restaurants. One from Macaluso's of Miami Beach is found in Phase 2 recipes and could easily push someone back into Phase 1. Macaluso's Salad reveals 25 g of carbohydrates and 30 g of fat, 5 of those saturated, and 3 mg of cholesterol.

A recipe from Rumi Supper Club, also in Miami Beach, appears in Phase 3 and is guaranteed to move someone back to Phase 1 or to the emergency room of the local hospital. Roast Chicken with Sweet Garlic, Melted Onions, and Sour Orange clocks in with 630 calories, 25 g of protein, 50 g of carbohydrates, 37g of fat (8 g saturated) and 85 mg of cholesterol.

Joe's Stone Crab in Miami Beach may be a favorite destination for local diners, but anyone eating their Shrimp Louis might have to join the line at Dr. Agatston's office for a statin prescription. This shrimp creation boasts 867 calories, 46 g protein, 40 g carbohydrates, 58 g fat, 10 g saturated fat, 1493 mg sodium, 501 mg cholesterol, and 7 g fiber. This dish is a Phase 2 recommendation. If Agatston eats there often, no wonder he has to take statin drugs.

Desserts tend to be boring
Dessert lovers will face an ignominious choice in Phase 1. There is basically one dessert, Ricotta Crème, in five delicious (?) flavors: Lemon Zest, Almond, Vanilla, Mocha, and Lime Zest. They all feature part-skim ricotta cheese with a sugar substitute and a flavoring. Even these have 10 g fat, 6 g saturated, and 38 mg cholesterol. This dessert is typical of the boring nature of Phase I. Even Agatston advises dieters not stay on Phase I longer than two weeks. After that time, Phase I becomes a fallback regimen for those who have regressed to their pre-diet days.

Agatston says it all when he states, "Like most physicians, I was not particularly knowledgeable in the science of nutrition. So my first task was to research all the weight- loss programs out there, the serious scientific ones as well as the trendy attempts that topped the best-seller lists." In The South Beach Diet he has created his own trendy attempt with over 7.7 million copies in print. Over 1.75 million copies of new The South Beach Diet Cookbook went on sale last month.

Hopefully, Atkins and Agatston are passing fads. If not, Americans may awake one day to find that they are not only more obese but they have numerous health problems caused by these diets based on so much animal protein. Meanwhile, pass the laxatives, please!

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