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Atkins Diet Mortality: Is Too Much Meat Killing Low-Carb Eaters?

close-up portrait of young beautiful woman is eating big mac isolated on white
Pavel Sazonov
(Pavel Sazonov)

(CBS) Could the Atkins diet be sending people to an early grave?

It just might.

A new study by Harvard scientists shows that the death rate among people who eat a diet that's low in carbs and high in animal protein is higher than that of people who follow other eating patterns.

In contrast, people who ate a low-carb diet that included lots of vegetables had a lower risk of death, the study found.

To conduct the study, researchers tracked the eating habits and health of 85,000 women and 45,000 men for more than 20 years. The study was published in the September7 issue of "Annals of Internal Medicine."

Men and women who ate an animal protein-based low-carb diet were 23 percent more likely to die during the course of the study. Those who ate a low-carb diet that included lots of plant foods were 20 percent less likely to die.

"You can have the initial Atkins-type of low-carb diet, which is loaded with sausages, bacon, steaks, and you can have healthy versions of the low-carb diet with more vegetable- or plant-based protein and fat," Dr. Frank B. Hu, a professor of nutrition at Harvard and the study's lead author, told Bloomberg Businessweek.

"We looked at these two versions of low-carb diets and found that the impact of the two are drastically different. Those who follow the animal-based low-carb diet have an increased risk of total mortality and cancer mortality in particular."