He notes that the first thing the teens have to do is give up the "empty calories" they down by the hundreds in soda, juice and junk food.
It's not only perennial dieters who are cutting back on carbs. Many people who aren't overweight have been incorporating low-carb principals into their eating habits, forgoing bread, pasta and potatoes and eating more protein, olive oils, beans and nuts.
Undoubtedly, public opinion has changed from when carbohydrates such as pasta, pretzels and potatoes — along with the notable low-fat Snackwell cookies — were perceived by many to be "nonfattening." The U.S. Department of Agriculture's food pyramid helped promote that perception — calling for six to 11 servings of carbohydrates daily. (The USDA says its recommendations were widely misinterpreted: Only very physically active people should be eating anywhere near 11 servings, while the sedentary types should be eating six.)
The dietary shift is being stoked by increasingly alarmed pronouncements about the looming perils of the U.S.' epidemic of obesity: Two-thirds of Americans are overweight, a substantial number of them obese. As the numbers on the scale have risen, so too has Type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
"Far too many Americans are literally eating themselves to death," Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy G. Thompson declared earlier this month, in announcing that the Food and Drug Administration would crack down on labeling that tries to make foods seem less fattening than they are. The regulatory agency also plans to establish guidelines for exactly what qualifies as "low carb" — because many products are taking great liberties with the lack of guidelines.
Many consumers are likely to make the same mistakes that they did with low-fat concoctions — paying too much attention to the carbohydrate content and not enough to the calorie count. For example, Low Carb Enchantments chocolate chip cookies boast only 2.3 grams of net carbs per cookie — a controversial figure that subtracts the amount of fiber (3 grams in this case) and sugar alcohols (6 grams) from the amount of carbs (11 grams), to come up with net carbs. Yet, each cookie is far-from low-calorie, containing 130 calories, 80 of them from fat.
Most health experts, including South Beach's Agatston, still agree that one must burn more calories than one consumes in order to lose weight. But Atkins didn't think it was quite so simple. He maintained that by keeping carbs to a bare minimum, one could maintain a "metabolic advantage."
"When you control carbohydrate consumption sufficiently, your body will switch from burning glucose derived from carbohydrates to burning primarily fat for energy," he wrote in "Dr. Atkins' New Diet Revolution" 2002 edition.
Some people can lose weight on the diet only if they keep to as few as 15 grams of carbs a day — little more than one glass of skim milk — and he recommends no more than 60 grams of carbs for anyone, even in the maintenance phase.
So if Atkins was right, anyone eating more carbs than that in a day may well gain weight.
Many health experts have attacked the Atkins diet over the years as unhealthy, suggesting that it can cause kidney problems, bad breath, elevated cholesterol levels and other maladies. Atkins, who died recently, always contended this was untrue, and that its adherents' lipids improved on the diet — which was borne out in some studies.
Angela Allen, 31, of Dallas agrees with the Atkins philosophy. She tried everything to lose the 60 pounds she gained while pregnant with her son seven years ago, but couldn't, and always felt hungry.
She switched to Atkins and ate far more calories than on any of the low-fat diets, consuming "tons of steak and hamburger and bacon and eggs and really fatty stuff" like pork rinds. The weight fell off.
Agatston credits Atkins with having the right idea — that high-glycemic carbohydrates, particularly refined sugar and flour — cause big swings in blood sugar that lead people to crave more carbohydrates, and lead them to eat more. In contrast, proteins and fats tend to keep diners more satisfied.
But Agatston just couldn't conscience urging his at-risk patients to indulge in artery-clogging saturated fats such as butter, fatty steaks and Brie. (Of course, Atkins dieters can eat lean meats or fish and avoid the butter and Brie; but in some cases, the lower-fat versions have less fat but more carbs, so on Atkins, the dieter may opt for heavy cream but can't have skim milk.)
Rather than referring to his South Beach diet as "low-carb" — even though it is — Agatston prefers to refer to "good carbs" (such as the ones that come from nonstarchy vegetables, some fruits and beans) and "bad carbs" (those that come from flour, sugar and non whole grains).
He views his diet as being easier to stick to for life because one doesn't need to count calories, or measure portions, like other diets require.
The South Beach diet has its flaws, and not everyone loses weight on it.