April 16th, 2010
Source Critique: Atkins New Diet Revolution Recently, I decided to make an appointment to see a registered dietician and medical doctor because I felt my weight was getting out of control and I felt unhealthy in general. The doctor weighed me with a sophisticated scale and gave me specific measurements of my body including fat percentage, lean body mass (muscle), and water weight. Although I knew I was almost in the overweight category by being 5’6” tall and 140 pounds on a small frame, I was still surprised when the doctor came back and said that out of my 140 pounds, over 40 pounds of that was fat. In other words, although I am a normal weight my body composition is technically “fat.” The doctor explained to me that my body was only burning about 1300 calories per day so if I wanted to lose weight, I would have to eat less than that and exercise. The doctor then showed me a low-calorie diet plan that was well-balanced with carbs, protein, fruits, vegetables, and fats. To my surprise again, she told me that it was the bread and sugar in my diet that was making me fat, and suggested that I make the diet a low-carb diet plan by cutting out the “bad” carbohydrate sources such as breads and sugar. She also suggested that I double up on my protein sources such as meat and eggs. Her advice made me curious about what is arguably the most well-known low-carb diet, the Atkins’ Diet. So for my research paper, some of my research centered on whether or not the Atkins’ Diet is healthy, and for my source critique, I read Dr. Atkins’ New Diet Revolution, written by Dr. Robert Atkins.
Notice that Jamie has very effectively introduced her topic by using a personal anecdote. Then she has made the transition to the subject of her critique, Robert Atkins’ New Diet Revolution.
In his book, Dr. Atkins presents arguments as to why his diet is the best diet to follow. His main thesis is that it is the carbohydrates in people’s diets that are making them fat and have health problems. Following this premise, the Atkins Diet has four phases: Induction, Ongoing Weight Loss, Pre-Maintenance, and Lifetime Maintenance. At Induction, dieters are restricted to only 20 grams of carbohydrate per day. By the time they reach Lifetime Maintenance, they are still only allowed 60-90 carbohydrates per day. (For perspective, an orange has about 16 carbs and a slice of bread has about 18). Dr. Atkins argues that if you stop fueling your body with carbohydrate (the body’s essential fuel), your body will be forced to burn only its own fat as the primary fuel instead, a state that is known as ketosis.
Notice that Jamie has used the preceding paragraph to summarize Atkins’ argument in New Diet Revolution. Hers is a concise and yet extremely descriptive summary of an entire book.
After reading his book, I would have to say that as far as a source for encouragement, recipes, and instructions on how to follow the diet, it is a great book to read. However, I don’t think it is a very good source if you really want to explore the health effects of this diet because Dr. Atkins presents testimonials to promote his diet, because he makes statements that contradict well-known nutritional guidelines, and because he downplays the negative health effects that may result from eating this way. Pay particular attention to this highlighted paragraph, in which Jamie has done a particularly nice job of stating her own thesis concerning Atkins’ argument. Instead of presenting medical records about how well a patient did on the diet, Dr. Atkins gives testimonials. The book reads like a self-improvement infomercial, and Dr. Atkins is selling his product to average Americans who most likely want a quick-fix for their weight problem. For instance, one testimonial in Dr. Atkins’ New Diet Revolution is about a woman named Rebecca who tried every fad diet available from the Cabbage Soup Diet to Fen-Phen and still couldn’t lose weight. Finally, after two weeks on the Atkins Diet she lost 17 pounds. Her friends began warning her that this diet was risky because of the high cholesterol content from eating fats and protein all the time, so Rebecca went to her doctor for a complete physical. The testimonial claims that Rebecca’s doctor told her that her cholesterol levels were “highly favorable” and told her she could continue doing the diet because she was healthy (44-45). This all sounds really great, but I don’t trust testimonials because they don’t replace scientific studies. Testimonials can be made up or at the very least may be an example of an atypical result. In other words, I am not the person in the testimonial, and just because Rebecca’s cholesterol didn’t become dangerously high it doesn’t mean that mine won’t. Dr. Atkins says that the testimonials he presents aren’t atypical, but where are his studies and records that prove that? Testimonials are nothing more than hearsay and a gimmick used to sell a product, and that is what I felt Dr. Atkins was doing throughout his book.
The preceding paragraph is Jamie’s first analysis paragraph. Notice that you can relate it back to the first point she makes in her thesis statement. I have highlighted the portion of the paragraph that presents Jamie’s evaluation. This is good stuff.
Another problem I have with Dr. Atkins’ advice is the fact that he makes statements supporting his diet method that contradict well-known nutritional guidelines. For instance, Dr. Atkins claims that his program is nutritionally sound even though it contradicts the recommendations given by both the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Department of Agriculture (USDA). According to the HHS website, health.gov, The Dietary Guidelines for Americans, a science-based guideline published jointly by the HHS and USDA every five years, describes a healthy diet as one that “emphasizes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fat-free or low-fat milk and milk products; includes lean meats, poultry, fish, beans, eggs, and nuts; and is low in saturated fats, trans-fats, cholesterol, salt (sodium), and added sugars.” Dr. Atkins’ diet, in contrast, contains high amounts of fats and fatty milk products, restricts grains, fruit, beans, and many vegetables, and is full of cholesterol.
The preceding paragraph is Jamie’s second paragraph of analysis. Once again, notice that it can be traced back to her thesis statement. And notice, too, her effective use of an outside source to support her evaluation.
Also according to Dr. Atkins’ New Diet Revolution, the vegetables dieters are restricted to while doing Atkins are basically salad greens, spinach, asparagus, broccoli, cabbage, snow peas, and cauliflower, among some other weird choices such as bamboo shoots and kohlrabi (85). In chapter 8, Dr. Atkins explains that “most of you will be able to eat one cup of those [restricted] vegetables daily, as well as two cups of salad vegetables (or just three cups of salad vegetables).” He goes on to say, “By the time you are in the Lifetime Maintenance phase, you may well be able to eat most every vegetable, although some in moderation or very rarely” (85). But this is not a healthy way to eat according to the Produce for Better Health Foundation (PBH), an organization whose sole purpose is to ensure that people are getting the proper nutrients from fresh produce. PBH’s recommendation, from their Fruit and Veggies More Matters website, is to “make fruits and vegetables about half of what you eat, every time you eat.” The paltry one to three cups of restricted vegetables per day and no fruit that Dr. Atkins is advocating obviously won’t meet this dietary guideline. Also from the Fruit and Veggies More Matters website, they suggest that it is important to eat many colors of fruits and vegetables to make sure you get a variety of different vitamins from your food. The vegetables listed on the site are white starches, orange-colored vegetables, legumes (beans), and dark green vegetables. Also supporting this claim is Nutrition for Life, the current textbook for Health and Nutrition courses at MCC and many other colleges. According to the textbook, the phytochemicals found in fruits and vegetables, such as purple flavonoids, which are found in berries, purple grapes, and eggplant (189), reduce the risk for serious diseases as well as slow the aging process and protect the human body from damage caused by free radicals in our environment (188). Since the color of the fruit or vegetable indicates which phytochemical you are ingesting, Nutrition for Life recommends “building a rainbow” in your shopping cart at the grocery store and “coloring your plate” at home to ensure you are getting the proper variety of phytochemicals (189). Since dark green vegetables are virtually the only vegetables allowed in Dr. Atkins’ diet plan, it is obvious that his dieters may be missing out on some important nutrients.
The preceding is a third outstanding paragraph of analysis, the evaluation once again nicely supported by outside sources.
The nutritional inconsistencies I mentioned before pale in comparison to the main rule of the Atkins Diet plan, which is the severe restriction placed on carbohydrates. According to Nutrition for Life, carbohydrates are not the bad guy. In fact, Nutrition for Life explains that the human body needs to be fueled with carbohydrates so that it can convert them into glycogen which is then stored in the muscles and liver and is used for energy when we need it (72). In Dr. Atkins’ New Diet Revolution, he insists that the body will burn primarily fat if you don’t give your body carbs, but this is a major distortion of the truth. He says, “Our primary fuel is based on carbohydrate and is delivered as glucose. People who eat three so-called ‘balanced’ meals every day get virtually all their energy from glucose” (94). But Nutrition for Life indicates that the human body already uses fat as its primary fuel. According to the textbook, “Fat is the predominant energy source used by most of our cells at rest and during low-intensity activities such as sitting, standing, and walking” (73). It is only when doing very intense exercise that the body begins using more carbohydrate than fat for fuel at a ratio of 33% fat and 67% carbohydrate (73). Since Dr. Atkins New Diet Revolution recommends intense exercise for 45 minutes five days a week while only allowing dieters a meager 60 to 90 carbs per day even when they are in the Lifetime Maintenance phase (209), what he is suggesting is potentially harmful because the body is forced to produce the glycogen it needs from muscle and other tissues. Nutrition for Life makes it clear that some of our cells can use fat and protein for energy if they are forced to, but our red blood cells (which provide oxygen to the entire body), as well as our brains and nerve cells must have glucose to function (73). This is why health and nutrition experts always advocate taking steps to prevent the body from going into ketosis—not for making it occur on purpose.
Finally, Dr. Atkins downplays the negative health effects that may result from using his ketogenic diet. One example is the fact that no health advocate would ever recommend being in a prolonged state of ketosis. In a PowerPoint lecture given by Dr. Maureen Zimmerman, a Mesa Community College nutritional instructor and registered dietician, she explains that when the body is deprived of carbohydrates, it will make the glucose it needs from protein. Since the human body doesn’t store protein the way it stores extra glucose, it will take the amino acids it needs from the blood, muscles, liver, kidneys, and even the heart. When the body is forced to use protein for energy, it can no longer make new cells, repair damaged tissues, or perform many other critical functions of the body. If the body is forced to “steal” from itself for a long time, such as the lifetime that Dr. Atkins is suggesting, it can cause irreparable damage to these organs and tissues. This is very different from what Dr. Atkins is claiming in his book. He assures readers that “chronic ketosis without caloric restriction poses no danger to your heart, kidneys, blood or bone health” (63). This claim is in direct contradiction to the many studies that doctors and researchers have agreed upon, and since Dr. Atkins only mentions it once in his book, he is definitely downplaying the serious health risk his diet can have on the body’s organs, bones, and tissues. I have been very critical of Dr. Atkins’ book, but it does have some good points in it as well. As far as diets go, you will lose weight if you do this diet. Whether or not it is healthy to follow this eating plan is highly questionable, but people can do whatever they like with their bodies, and I don’t think the diet is going to kill a healthy person although there are health risks to consider. I also liked Dr. Atkins’ thoughts about carbohydrates possibly being the culprit behind the obesity epidemic in the United States. It should be pointed out that it is probably the refined or “bad” carbohydrates such as white flour, breads, and sugars making people fat, not the plant-based or “good” carbohydrate sources such as vegetables, fruits, beans, and grains, but Dr. Atkins restricts or eliminates all of these carbohydrates and doesn’t distinguish between good and bad carbs. Also, if you really do want to explore every aspect of Dr. Atkins’ research, he did provide an extensive “works cited” list to back up most of his claims. There were literally hundreds of works cited though, and it was sometimes unclear which citations went with each chapter, so it was difficult to determine whether or not all the studies related to his claims or if all the sources were used properly.
The preceding paragraph is the last of six—count ‘em, six—analysis paragraphs in this thorough and balanced evaluation of Atkins’ argument. Notice that all six paragraphs can also be traced back to Jamie’s clearly stated thesis in paragraph five of the essay. Dr. Atkin’s New Diet Revolution is a great book for instructional and motivational purposes. However, it is lacking as a source of unbiased information because Dr. Atkins presents testimonials to promote his diet, because he makes statements that contradict nutritional guidelines, and because he downplays the negative health effects that may result from following his eating plan.
Jamie concludes her essay by restating her thesis—in other words, by briefly summarizing her evaluation of Atkins’ argument.
Atkins, Robert C. Dr. Atkins New Diet Revolution Revised Edition. New York: Harper Collins, 2001. Print.
Fruit and Veggies More Matters. 2010. Produce for Better Health Foundation. Web. 30 March 2010. .
Thompson, Janice, and Melinda Manore. Nutrition for Life. San Francisco: Pearson Benjamin Cummings, 2010. Print.
United States. Department of Agriculture. My Pyramid. 2005. Web. 30 March 2010. .
---. Department of Health and Human Services. Dietary Guidelines for Americans. 2009. Web. 1 April 2010. .
Zimmerman, Maureen. Carbohydrates: Bountiful Sources of Energy and Nutrients. PowerPoint Lecture.
Jamie’s lists the six sources she cited in her essay, including the source she was evaluating.
Word for word, Jamie’s may be the best response I’ve ever received to this assignment. You may not be able to equal it, but you can certainly learn from it. Notice that Jamie has followed the prescribed format for the essay almost perfectly, effectively introducing her topic and the source she’s critiquing, summarizing the source to provide her very audience with a framework for understanding her evaluation, clearly articulating her own evaluative thesis, and supporting it with six paragraphs of splendid analysis and evaluation. Notice too her effective use and appropriate documentation of other sources to support her evaluation. Jamie’s essay sets the bar high, but it’s the level of accomplishment you want to strive for on this assignment.