Beware low-carb propaganda

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There was a nice piece in The Times here in the UK on Saturday about my latest book Waist Disposal (see here). This piece, and a small piece that ran in another publication did seem to have some impact: Waist Disposal ended up rocketing up the ranking and spent a couple of days in the number 4 slot. It’s com down a bit today, but nevertheless there’s positive signs that some have an appetite for low-carb eating and are keen to dispense with their excess fat in a healthy and sustainable way. A big and genuine thanks to all of you reading this who have invested in a copy of the book!

Any time low-carb eating gets some positive press, doubts about its safety resurface. So let’s get something clear, compared with standard diets and in particular low-fat diets low-carb ones generally outperform in terms of weight loss as well as improvements in markers for chronic diseases such as heart disease and diabetes.

But, we are reminded that the safety of these diets in the long term is not assured. The main issue? – the saturated fat in the all the steak and butter some imagine a low-carb diet to be full of. Well, first of all low-carb diets are not necessarily high in saturated fat. And secondly, there is no evidence that saturated fat has the heart-stopping properties many say it has. See here for more about this.

Moreover, there is some recent evidence that replacing saturated fat with supposedly ‘healthy’ carbohydrate is more likely to do more harm than good where our heart health is concerned.

And then we hear that all that protein is not good for our kidneys or our bones. For those with normal kidney function, high protein diets do not appear to pose any risk whatsoever. Plus, the balance of evidence suggests that protein-rich diets are generally good for bone health. See here for more on this.

Some also suggest that by eschewing grains we are somehow missing out on something vital in the diet. This is nonsense. There is nothing ‘vital’ found in grains that can’t be obtained more healthily elsewhere in the diet. Don’t forget that grains are a very recent addition to the human diet – for most of the 2.5-odd million years we’ve been evolving for we just didn’t eat them. And don’t forget too that the absolute requirement for carbohydrate in the diet is none at all (we can make it from other dietary elements).

I’m writing this as a backdrop to an email I received today, and my response to it. First, the email:

Dear Dr Briffa,

Following a recent radio interview I decided to purchase your book Waist Disposal and am delighted to report that after following its recommendations for four weeks I have managed to lose 8lbs and, more importantly, am really enjoying what I have been eating and feeling on top of the world..

As delighted as I am with my results so far I do have friends who are concerned about your weight loss programme and sceptical about its health benefits.They have likened it to the now discredited high protein low carbohydrate Atkins diet and the health problems that it was found to encourage.

In what way does your programme differ from the Atkins and can you really have too much protein and too little coarbohydrate?

Yours Sincerely,


And now my response to it:


Thanks for your email and I’m delighted that WD is doing the trick for you.

The Atkins diet is only ‘discredited’ in the mind of people who either:

1. are not aware of the science regarding low-carb eating
2. are aware of the science, but studiously choose to ignore it anyway

The unpalatable (for some) truth is that Atkins is/was right.

The book, I think, refers to the relevant science. If your friends have concerns, perhaps they might like to produce the science to support their case? My experience is that people have been scared out of eating a low-carb diet on the basis of nutritional propaganda and folklore (nothing more).

Best wishes

John Briffa

The point I was seeking to make (if it’s not obvious) is that there really isn’t a good case to be made against low-carb, hgher-protein diets. I neglected to point out, however, that there is a compelling case against the high-carb, low-fat diet that has been touted as ‘healthy’ for 30-odd years. If anything, such a diet appears to be fuelling burgeoning rates of obesity and chronic disease including type 2 diabetes.

With a new Atkins book out and Waist Disposal getting some press, I think there’s a good chance we’re going to see some mobilisation of the low-carb naysayers. Should it come, do be on the look out for actual science (not mere assertions, however oft-repeated).

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