Fad diets come under USDA’s scrutiny

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    By Janel Esplin

    Two popular diets, low-fat and low-carbohydrate, are sweeping the country, and the government has decided to test their safety and effectiveness.

    “People want to do something about being overweight, and from what I’ve seen, they’re willing to try just about anything,” Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman said in the USDA’s official report.

    According to Ann Clousen of the American Dietetic Association, Americans spend $30 billion a year to battle the bulge.

    “Right now we have millions of dollars being spent on these diets, and everyone is throwing rocks at each other over what is the best diet,” she said.

    The U.S. Department of Agriculture recently hosted a nutrition debate over these trendy diets.

    While all of the diet gurus agree that losing weight means cutting calories, which calories to cut is still under debate.

    Some argue it is more important to cut calories from carbohydrates, while others believe cutting those from fatty proteins is the key to success.

    Dr. Robert C. Atkins is credited with developing the protein diet, which lets people eat omelets, bacon and bun-less burgers.

    A rival diet promoted by Dr. Dean Ornish, an outspoken critic of Atkins, is ultra low fat and virtually vegetarian.

    Researchers with the USDA plan to put two groups of people on prototype diets that are similar to those Atkins and Ornish are pushing and to measure how much weight they lose, along with the effects on their health.

    Some medical experts say the Atkins diet could damage the kidneys or bones, a claim he disputes.

    “If they do it correctly, it will change the basic eating patterns of Americans,” Atkins said.

    “It will be the greatest step forward that has ever taken place,” Atkins said.

    According to the government’s latest dietary guidelines, the best way to control weight is by exercising regularly and eating a balanced diet that includes a lot of whole grains, fruits and vegetables.

    Health and Human Services secretary Donna Shalala said she is a strong advocate of these guidelines.

    “When it comes to crash diets and fad diets, the guidelines are clear: Stop doing them. They won’t last,” she said.

    Alyssa Passey, a senior from Alexandria, Va., majoring in theater education, said her experience with the Atkins’ diet has been great.

    “It has really worked well for me, but I would only recommend it for certain people. You can’t be wishy-washy,” she said.

    Passey said she has heard the possible side effects of the diet, but she feels like her health is only improving.

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