Atkins Diet fans, step aside. The new Eco-Atkins plan, named for its environmentally friendly vegetarian menu, is proving to be healthier.
In only one month, volunteers following the plan reduced their cholesterol levels by 15 percent to 20 percent and dropped blood pressure 2 points. That’s a big, fast change.
https://arbuthnotdrug.com of diet and heart disease show it takes more time, up to 12 weeks, to see the full effect on cholesterol and blood pressure.
And unlike the traditional meat-based Atkins diet, which increased dangerous LDL cholesterol in previous studies, the Eco-Atkins diet reduced LDL.
The Eco-Atkins diet scores better from an environmental perspective, too. High-protein diets emphasizing red meat, dairy and eggs are not environmentally friendly, said Dr. David Jenkins, a physician at St. Michael’s Hospital and University of Toronto in Canada and one of the researchers.
That’s because it takes more energy and produces more greenhouse gases to raise beef and poultry than it does to grow grains, beans, fruits or vegetables.
A Vegan Twist
Jenkins and colleagues recruited 50 overweight, middle-aged people from Toronto for their study. Half the volunteers received the Eco-Atkins diet: ready-made meals of low-carbohydrate, high-protein foods.
The twist: the meals were strictly vegan – no meat, poultry, fish or dairy products. (The original Atkins was low-carb and high-protein, but with lots of meat.)
If a vegan diet sounds extreme to you, keep reading. There are simple ways to incorporate some vegan meals into your diet, and non-vegan vegetarian meals can be helpful, too.
Jenkins and his colleagues picked a vegan diet because they thought it “would be the most ecologically, environmentally and other-species friendly diet that we could mount,” Jenkins said.
“But we didn’t set it up against a diet that was ecologically catastrophic,” such as the traditional Atkins diet.
Instead, the remaining volunteers followed a vegetarian diet including low-fat dairy products and egg substitutes so it would be a fair match, equally low in cholesterol as the Eco-Atkins diet.
Both groups of volunteers reported feeling satisfied and full, although they ate only 1,500 calories a day and lost about 8 pounds in the month.
As expected with any weight loss experience, both groups had improvements in cholesterol and blood pressure. But the Eco-Atkins group had bigger changes–an 8 percent greater drop in cholesterol.
As a dietitian, I don’t recommend vegan diets for everyone. Without serious planning and dedication, vegan plans can be inadequate. However, we can all reap benefits from moving toward a more plant-based diet.
Even having a few vegan meals a week can be helpful. Vegan foods are useful because they have less artery-clogging fats than meats. And they can be simple to prepare–bet you didn’t realize a peanut butter sandwich was vegan!
Lots of Fiber
The eating plans in the study were very different. The Eco-Atkins diet provided only 130 grams of carbohydrates per day, the minimum level currently recommended by scientists.
It eliminated common starchy foods such as baked goods, potatoes and rice. Instead of wheat bread, the plan included flour-less high-protein bread made from ground almonds, ground hazelnuts and wheat gluten.
Eco-Atkins menus emphasized foods rich in soluble fiber, which is known to lower cholesterol. Such foods include oats, barley, okra and eggplant, along with other fruits and vegetables.
The plan also included wheat protein, known as seitan, and soy protein in veggie burgers, veggie bacon, veggie deli slices, veggie breakfast sausages, tofu and soy drinks.
Also, the eco-friendly plan featured heart-healthy fats, such as that found in almonds, cashews, macadamia nuts, pecans, pistachios, vegetable oils and avocados.
To make up for nutrients found in dairy products not allowed on the Eco-Atkins diet, people received supplements of vitamin B-12, vitamin D, calcium and magnesium.
Like the Eco-Atkins plan, the comparison plan – a more traditional vegetarian diet–was meat-free. But it included low-fat milk, yogurt and cheese, as well as egg whites. The more traditional diet had twice as many carbohydrates as the high-protein Eco-Atkins diet.
Even if the Eco-Atkins plan is too dramatic a change for most people, Jenkins encourages people to move toward a more plant-based diet.
You don’t have to take an all-or-nothing approach.
As a dietitian, I agree that switching to plant proteins like beans, peas and lentils instead of meat is better for your heart and your waistline. Legumes are lower in calories and saturated fat than meat and better for the environment. You might start by eating one vegetarian meal a week.
Jenkins’ crew used many vegetarian versions of meat. If you don’t enjoy faux foods or feel they are too costly, try traditional vegetarian treats.
Some of my favorites are:
Cajun red beans and rice
Bean chili with corn bread
Split-pea soup with whole-grain crackers
Curried lentils with vegetables and rice
Take-out Chinese bean curd with broccoli, rice and garlic sauce.
Beans do have more carbohydrates than the modern meat substitutes used in the Eco-Atkins plan. However, beans are still a good source of protein, and arguably even more eco-friendly because they are less processed.
The list of yummy vegetarian foods is nearly endless.