‘The Diabetes Epidemic Can Be Stopped!’
“I think it is possible to end the diabetes epidemic,” says Veronica Atkins. She is not kidding.
Atkins, the widow of Robert C. Atkins, MD, has done a lot for people with diabetes over the past two years. Through the Robert C. Atkins Foundation, she has provided more than $12 million to scientific and clinical researchers studying metabolism and nutrition. She believes that type 2 diabetes and its complications can be eradicated, and to that end she has funded 38 different nutrition studies at academic institutions like Washington University, Duke University and Albert Einstein College of Medicine. She is confident that these studies will show that following a controlled low-carb diet can reverse type 2 diabetes and combat obesity.
Atkins’ husband passed away in April 2003 after slipping on an icy street in New York City. His first book, “Dr. Atkins’ Diet Revolution,” was published in 1972 and sold more than 10 million copies. He became known as the low-carb diet guru.
Robert Atkins credited a low-carb diet for reversing type 2 diabetes. While his books and the low-carb diet were tremendously popular, his claims were heavily criticized by other doctors. However, most of Robert Atkins’ critics based their arguments on long-held beliefs, not research. Surprisingly, there is very little scientific research available on the effects of diet on diabetes. Finally, however, Atkins’ work was proved valid in 2002, when Duke University conducted the first major study of a low-carb diet. The Duke study showed that by following the Atkins diet, a person could decrease their weight and cholesterol as effectively if not more than by following a low-fat diet. Other studies affirming the validity of Atkins’ research were soon to follow.
Today, more doctors than ever are putting patients on low-carb diets, but more research is still needed to convince the larger medical community to accept the fact that a low-carb lifestyle is both safe and effective.
Enter Atkins’ widow, Veronica. With plenty of money from the sale of the Atkins food company, she has the resources and dedication to set the record straight. She believes that her husband was right all along, and she aims to clear away any doubt about his legacy.
Veronica Atkins keeps busy governing the Foundation’s grant application process as well as visiting various research institutions. When asked why she was doing this work, her answer was, “It keeps me close to him.”
With the help of Veronica Atkins, the additional research needed to justify a low-carb diet may soon be available to us all.
What was Dr. Atkins’ main passion as a physician?
His passion was alternative and complementary medicine. Basically, he believed that an individual could help the body heal itself by providing what it needed to do the job. Essentially, his idea was for a doctor to find out what the body is lacking in a particular patient, and in many circumstances those things are nutritional: vitamins, nutrients, etc. He discovered this approach by seeing positive results, which prompted him to continue learning even more.
So when he left med school he wasn’t focused on any one thing.
No. He was an unorthodox physician by most medical standards.
When he saw the effect of eating a lower-carb diet on obesity, did that take him in a certain direction?
Yes. He started studying more about lower-carb diet, and started applying it to patients. He saw the positive results and finally wrote a book about low-carb diet and lifestyle.
So there wasn’t much information available about lower-carb eating before Dr. Atkins came along.
Not much, until Bob put it on the map. The concept already existed and had been utilized, but it was never seriously pursued. Then Bob started doing it and seeing the results, and he wrote about it in the book, and the rest became history.
Your new goal is to help people with type 2 diabetes. Of all of the medical conditions, why did you choose it?
Because Dr. Atkins had such incredible results [working with people with type 2 diabetes]. Basically, he discovered he could either prevent its onset if it was caught early, or, if already diagnosed, reverse the disease. Personally, I want everyone to know that although diabetes is currently an enormous problem, it doesn’t need to be. It can literally be stopped. Can you imagine eradicating diabetes? It can be done. Dr. Atkins had great success proving that it can be cured. It was easy for him, because he knew what he was doing.
Did you cook for him?
What was a typical menu for your husband?
He usually ate eggs for breakfast and bacon or some sliced tomatoes with coffee. For lunch, he would have grilled chicken and a tomato salad and cheese. For dinner he would have a salad, some protein—lamb was his favorite— and some cooked vegetables. Sometimes he would have a few berries for dessert.
What about alcohol?
He would usually have one glass of wine.
Should people drink alcohol if they are trying to lose weight on a low-carb eating plan?
It would probably be better, in that period, not to have any alcohol.
You’re in great shape. Do you follow the Atkins plan?
Does that mean more than a diet?
Yes. For breakfast, I will have a piece of whole grain bread, a piece of salmon with a slice of tomato. Every person can tolerate their own level of carbs, but don’t play around too much with the targeted carb level because you can diminish the results.
Do you exercise?
I walk a lot and play tennis. I’m a very fast walker.
Tell me about the research you are funding.
We are very interested in type 2 diabetes. I believe it can be eradicated with proper nutrition, but I want to see independent scientific studies to either prove or disprove my belief. If you eat refined junk food, what do you expect happens to your body and health? As for enriched white bread, Dr. Atkins always said rats wouldn’t eat it—it’s poison.
You’re really up against the perception that carbs are good. I hear from nutritionists that the brain burns glucose, and many feel that you need carbs to function.
First of all, there are good carbs and bad carbs. Unfortunately, most of the carbs that are consumed by the general public are the bad carbs, specifically refined and bleached foods and sugar. You don’t need sugar for energy, as it can be obtained from protein and vegetables. Certain carbs are good, but you have to learn what they are.
Being married to Dr. Atkins for many years, you were subject to some public ridicule for his work. What were some of the most difficult times he went through?
They said his work was dangerous. They said it was counterproductive. People simply did not understand the difference between the good and bad fats. Bob had been talking about the dangers of trans fats for over 25 years. Bob never wavered in his beliefs, every morning, starting around 7:30 a.m., he saw patients. He saw their positive results and this reinforced his theories which ultimately improved their lives and health.
What gave him the impetus to start studying low-carb eating?
He needed to lose weight, and he couldn’t stand feeling hungry on a typical diet. About 40 years ago, he was reading a medical journal article about low-carb eating, and thought, “I can do this.” So, he tried it. At the time, he was an assistant physician at the American Telephone Company. The low-carb method worked for Bob, so he took the overweight AT&T employees and put them on a low-carb plan. Every one of the employees lost weight, and he knew he was on to something. He treated 10,000 patients using the low-carb lifestyle. After repeated urging by his friends and colleagues, he wrote his first book in 1972, “Dr. Atkins’ Diet Revolution.” It was probably the fastest-selling book next to the Bible. That was when the FDA and AMA, as well as his colleagues went after him. They attacked him about his philosophies, and that was when Bob learned that doctors don’t always do what is right. But he kept seeing the results. People would laugh at him. He would go on his radio show every night and people would hammer away at him and challenge his beliefs, but he kept on doing the radio show and telling people about the positive results he had with thousands of patients.
Our readers might not know that you are no longer a part of the Atkins Food Division. Do you want say a few words about that?
We have nothing to do with the food product company, since it was sold shortly after Bob’s death. I also resigned from the Board of Directors. Bob’s foundation is now a public charity that supports independent scientific research. There is no commercial aspect to the Foundation, only philanthropy and the genuine desire to improve how the world eats and to promote a healthier controlled-carb lifestyle. I do what I do to prove that diabetes can and will be conquered, and I am not doing this for any kind of monetary gain. The Atkins food product company was created initially to help Bob’s patients and to allow Bob to eat low-carb ice cream, which he loved and missed on the lifestyle. The product company grew into a large and successful business as a result of the acceptance of low carb by the general public. When Atkins started out, there were about 60 low-carb products in the marketplace. Last year, there were over 10,000. When Bob slipped and fell, he was on his way to see patients at his clinic. Bob didn’t even have an office at the product company.
Haven’t studies shown that people on low-carb diets eat fewer calories?
Yes. Eating more protein over refined foods makes a person feel fuller longer and, therefore, they usually take in fewer total calories because they are not as hungry and snacking all the time.
Tell me more about your diet.
I’ll tell you what I don’t eat: processed sugar and flour. And I don’t like potatoes. I think you need fatty acids more than sugar for certain brain functions. I love olive oil because it’s very healthy, as well as vegetables, salads and berries. Fiber is also very important. I selectively eat other foods that are a little bit higher in carbs, but I do so in moderation. Overall, I don’t crave anything, but I don’t deny myself anything if I want it. I also consider the glycemic index in various foods. If you’re going to have fruit, take berries over a banana.
I was at the supermarket recently, and I saw that all of the breads have hydrogenated fat and high fructose corn syrup, and the jellies have high fructose corn syrup, and the peanut butter has hydrogenated fat. Dr. Atkins was very much opposed to hydrogenated fats, before anybody ever mentioned it. He was violently opposed to hydrogenated oils. Once and much to his dismay, he looked inside his mother’s refrigerator and found margarine. He said, “How could you?” and she said, “Because it doesn’t splatter,” and it was what the government and health organizations were recommending. When a [health] organization gets behind a certain product, it’s amazing what people will believe.
Should there be some retribution for supporting margarine for all those years? Do you think there should be an apology from some of these groups?
I would love an apology for Bobby’s sake, but that is never going to happen. The studies and research that resulted in the promotion of margarine and similar low-fat products were not done in isolation. If you eat all the carbs and protein and fat that you can, of course you will have a health problem. However, this is not what Atkins is about. The whole theory behind Atkins is to reduce the sugar intake and eliminate or reduce the intake of certain types of “bad” carbs. This process gets your body into an efficient, fat-burning state, and there are now numerous studies supporting this method as being safe.
For the complete list of Atkins-funded research, go to www.diabeteshealth.com/atkins.
Atkins Foundation Gives Duke University $2 Million Grant to Fight Obesity
In March 2005, the Robert C. Atkins Foundation gave $2 million to the Duke University School of Medicine to fund an endowed professorship along with funding research, clinical care and education in the areas of nutrition and metabolism.
“We are pleased and honored by the Atkins Foundation’s investment in our research into the complexities of obesity,” said Victor Dzau, MD, chancellor for health affairs and president and CEO of the Duke University Health System.
Dzau added that researchers from diverse disciplines at Duke—including genetics, biochemistry, psychology, surgery, nutrition and metabolism—are exploring the many factors contributing to obesity.
With nearly $40 million in assets, the Atkins Foundation is managed by the National Philanthropic Trust, an independent charity and one of the top 40 grant makers in the United States. The Atkins Foundation collaborates with leading professionals and organizations nationwide to fund research in nutrition and the management and treatment of obesity and associated diseases.
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