All that fat had to be bad for the heart: raising cholesterol levels through the roof, traditionalists said.
But now, that same medical establishment, the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine, may have to eat a little low-carb crow, reports CBS News Correspondent Elizabeth Kaledin.
Two studies in tomorrow's journal find that in the short term, the Atkins plan, compared to a low-fat low calorie diet, not only works -- it does not raise risk factors for heart disease.
"What we found after 6 months is that the subjects on a low carbohydrate diet lost more weight on average, 13 pounds compared to 4 pounds, and, additionally, had certain parameters that improved,'' said Dr. Linda Stern with the VA Medical Center.
Blood sugar levels in diabetics improved; bad cholesterol, or LDL, did not increase; fatty acids known as triglycerides went down
Nutritionists like Marion Nestle say the studies are too small and too short to draw major conclusions. But they are reason for a second look.
"In the long run is an Atkins diet safe? We don't know that. People went off the diet and returned to their old patterns after a few months. On a short term basis does this work? Apparently,'' said Nestle, who works with New York University.
Why it works, no one is quite sure. But for some reason, people on the Atkins diet are able to stay fuller longer and, as a result, eat fewer calories. All that protein and fat instead of fast-burning sugar and carbs, keeps people satisfied.
Dr. Atkins protégés, people like Colette Heimowitz, are quietly saying 'I told you so' but not celebrating yet.
"It's going to take longer than one or two studies for the very suspicious physician to grasp this as a safe alternative, said Heimowitz, a nutritionist with The Atkins Center in midtown Manhattan.
Maybe so, but at least for Dr. Robert Atkins -- who died just over a month ago and spent a career fighting conventional low-fat wisdom -- the studies are a taste of credibility he always craved.