By: Scott M. King
“I think it is possible to end the diabetes epidemic,” says Veronica Atkins. She is not kidding.
Atkins, the widow of Robert C. Atkins, MD, has done a lotfor people with diabetes over the past two years. Through theRobert C. Atkins Foundation, she has provided more than$12 million to scientific and clinical researchers studyingmetabolism and nutrition. She believes that type 2 diabetesand its complications can be eradicated, and to that endshe has funded 38 different nutrition studies at academicinstitutions like Washington University, Duke University andAlbert Einstein College of Medicine. She is confident thatthese studies will show that following a controlled low-carbdiet can reverse type 2 diabetes and combat obesity.
Atkins’ husband passed away in April 2003 after slipping onan icy street in New York City. His first book, “Dr. Atkins’ Diet Revolution,” was published in 1972 and sold more than 10million copies. He became known as the low-carb diet guru.
Robert Atkins credited a low-carb diet for reversing type2 diabetes. While his books and the low-carb diet weretremendously popular, his claims were heavily criticizedby other doctors. However, most of Robert Atkins’ criticsbased their arguments on long-held beliefs, not research.Surprisingly, there is very little scientific research available onthe effects of diet on diabetes. Finally, however, Atkins’ workwas proved valid in 2002, when Duke University conductedthe first major study of a low-carb diet. The Duke studyshowed that by following the Atkins diet, a person coulddecrease their weight and cholesterol as effectively if not morethan by following a low-fat diet. Other studies affirming thevalidity of Atkins’ research were soon to follow.
Today, more doctors than ever are putting patients on low-carbdiets, but more research is still needed to convince thelarger medical community to accept the fact that a low-carblifestyle is both safe and effective.
Enter Atkins’ widow, Veronica. With plenty of money fromthe sale of the Atkins food company, she has the resourcesand dedication to set the record straight. She believes that herhusband was right all along, and she aims to clear away anydoubt about his legacy.
Veronica Atkins keeps busy governing the Foundation’sgrant application process as well as visiting variousresearch institutions. When asked why she was doing thiswork, her answer was, “It keeps me close to him.”
With the help of Veronica Atkins, the additional researchneeded to justify a low-carb diet may soon be available tous all.
What was Dr. Atkins’ main passion as a physician?
His passion was alternative and complementary medicine.Basically, he believed that an individual could help thebody heal itself by providing what it needed to do thejob. Essentially, his idea was for a doctor to find out whatthe body is lacking in a particular patient, and in manycircumstances those things are nutritional: vitamins,nutrients, etc. He discovered this approach by seeingpositive results, which prompted him to continue learningeven more.
So when he left med school he wasn’t focused on any onething.
No. He was an unorthodox physician by most medicalstandards.
When he saw the effect of eating a lower-carb diet onobesity, did that take him in a certain direction?
Yes. He started studying more about lower-carb diet, andstarted applying it to patients. He saw the positive resultsand finally wrote a book about low-carb diet and lifestyle.
So there wasn’t much information available about lower-carbeating before Dr. Atkins came along.
Not much, until Bob put it on the map. The concept alreadyexisted and had been utilized, but it was never seriouslypursued. Then Bob started doing it and seeing the results,and he wrote about it in the book, and the rest becamehistory.
Your new goal is to help people with type 2 diabetes. Of allof the medical conditions, why did you choose it?
Because Dr. Atkins had such incredible results [workingwith people with type 2 diabetes]. Basically, he discoveredhe could either prevent its onset if it was caught early, or, if already diagnosed, reverse the disease. Personally, I want everyone to know that although diabetes is currently anenormous problem, it doesn’t need to be. It can literally be stopped. Can you imagine eradicating diabetes? It canbe done. Dr. Atkins had great success proving that it can be cured. It was easy for him, because he knew what he was doing.
Did you cook for him?
What was a typical menu for your husband?
He usually ate eggs for breakfast and bacon or some slicedtomatoes with coffee. For lunch, he would have grilledchicken and a tomato salad and cheese. For dinner hewould have a salad, some protein—lamb was his favorite—and some cooked vegetables. Sometimes he would have afew berries for dessert.
What about alcohol?
He would usually have one glass of wine.
Should people drink alcohol if they are trying to loseweight on a low-carb eating plan?
It would probably be better, in that period, not to have anyalcohol.
You’re in great shape. Do you follow theAtkins plan?
Does that mean more than a diet?
Yes. For breakfast, I will have a piece ofwhole grain bread, a piece of salmon witha slice of tomato. Every person can toleratetheir own level of carbs, but don’t playaround too much with the targeted carblevel because you can diminish the results.
Do you exercise?
I walk a lot and play tennis. I’m a very fastwalker.
Tell me about the research you are funding.
We are very interested in type 2 diabetes. I believe it canbe eradicated with proper nutrition, but I want to seeindependent scientific studies to either prove or disprovemy belief. If you eat refined junk food, what do you expecthappens to your body and health? As for enriched whitebread, Dr. Atkins always said rats wouldn’t eat it—it’spoison.
You’re really up against the perception that carbs aregood. I hear from nutritionists that the brain burnsglucose, and many feel that you need carbs to function.
First of all, there are good carbs and bad carbs.Unfortunately, most of the carbs that are consumed by thegeneral public are the bad carbs, specifically refined andbleached foods and sugar. You don’t need sugar for energy,as it can be obtained from protein and vegetables. Certaincarbs are good, but you have to learn what they are.
Being married to Dr. Atkins for many years, you weresubject to some public ridicule for his work. What weresome of the most difficult times he went through?
They said his work was dangerous. They said it wascounterproductive. People simply did not understand thedifference between the good and bad fats. Bob had beentalking about the dangers of trans fats for over 25 years.Bob never wavered in his beliefs, every morning, startingaround 7:30 a.m., he saw patients. He saw their positiveresults and this reinforced his theories which ultimatelyimproved their lives and health.
What gave him the impetus to start studying low-carbeating?
He needed to lose weight, and he couldn’t stand feelinghungry on a typical diet. About 40 years ago, he wasreading a medical journal article about low-carb eating,and thought, “I can do this.” So, he tried it. At the time,he was an assistant physician at the American TelephoneCompany. The low-carb method worked for Bob, so he tookthe overweight AT&T employees and put them on a low-carbplan. Every one of the employees lost weight, and heknew he was on to something. He treated 10,000 patientsusing the low-carb lifestyle. After repeated urging by hisfriends and colleagues, he wrote his first book in 1972, “Dr.Atkins’ Diet Revolution.” It was probably the fastest-sellingbook next to the Bible. That was when the FDA and AMA,as well as his colleagues went after him. They attacked himabout his philosophies, and that was when Bob learned thatdoctors don’t always do what is right. But he kept seeingthe results. People would laugh at him. He would go on hisradio show every night and people would hammer awayat him and challenge his beliefs, but he kept on doing theradio show and telling people about the positive results hehad with thousands of patients.
Our readers might not know that you are no longer a partof the Atkins Food Division. Do you want say a few wordsabout that?
We have nothing to do with the food product company,since it was sold shortly after Bob’s death. I alsoresigned from the Board of Directors. Bob’s foundationis now a public charity that supports independentscientific research. There is no commercial aspect tothe Foundation, only philanthropy and the genuinedesire to improve how the world eats and to promote ahealthier controlled-carb lifestyle. I do what I do to provethat diabetes can and will be conquered, and I am notdoing this for any kind of monetary gain. The Atkinsfood product company was created initially to help Bob’spatients and to allow Bob to eat low-carb ice cream, whichhe loved and missed on the lifestyle. The product companygrew into a large and successful business as a result of theacceptance of low carb by the general public. When Atkinsstarted out, there were about 60 low-carb products in themarketplace. Last year, there were over 10,000. WhenBob slipped and fell, he was on his way to see patients athis clinic. Bob didn’t even have an office at the productcompany.
Haven’t studies shown that people on low-carb diets eatfewer calories?
Yes. Eating more protein over refined foods makes a personfeel fuller longer and, therefore, they usually take in fewertotal calories because they are not as hungry and snackingall the time.
Tell me more about your diet.
I’ll tell you what I don’t eat: processed sugar and flour. And I don’t like potatoes. I think you need fatty acids more thansugar for certain brain functions. I love olive oil because it’svery healthy, as well as vegetables, salads and berries. Fiberis also very important. I selectively eat other foods thatare a little bit higher in carbs, but I do so in moderation.Overall, I don’t crave anything, but I don’t deny myselfanything if I want it. I also consider the glycemic index invarious foods. If you’re going to have fruit, take berries overa banana.
I was at the supermarket recently, and I saw that all of thebreads have hydrogenated fat and high fructose corn syrup,and the jellies have high fructose corn syrup, and thepeanut butter has hydrogenated fat. Dr. Atkins was verymuch opposed to hydrogenated fats, before anybody evermentioned it. He was violently opposed to hydrogenatedoils. Once and much to his dismay, he looked inside hismother’s refrigerator and found margarine. He said, “Howcould you?” and she said, “Because it doesn’t splatter,” and it was what the government and health organizations were recommending. When a [health] organization gets behind a certain product, it’s amazing what people will believe.
Should there be some retribution for supportingmargarine for all those years? Do you think there shouldbe an apology from some of these groups?
I would love an apology for Bobby’s sake, but that isnever going to happen. The studies and research thatresulted in the promotion of margarine and similar low-fatproducts were not done in isolation. If you eat all thecarbs and protein and fat that you can, of course you willhave a health problem. However, this is not what Atkinsis about. The whole theory behind Atkins is to reduce thesugar intake and eliminate or reduce the intake of certaintypes of “bad” carbs. This process gets your body into an efficient, fat-burning state, and there are now numerousstudies supporting this method as being safe.
For the complete list of Atkins-funded research, go to www.diabeteshealth.com/atkins.
Atkins Foundation Gives Duke University $2 Million Grant to Fight Obesity
In March 2005, the Robert C. Atkins Foundation gave$2 million to the Duke University School of Medicineto fund an endowed professorship along withfunding research, clinical care and education in theareas of nutrition and metabolism.
“We are pleased and honored by the AtkinsFoundation’s investment in our research into thecomplexities of obesity,” said Victor Dzau, MD,chancellor for health affairs and president and CEO ofthe Duke University Health System.
Dzau added that researchers from diverse disciplinesat Duke—including genetics, biochemistry,psychology, surgery, nutrition and metabolism—areexploring the many factors contributing to obesity.
With nearly $40 million in assets, the AtkinsFoundation is managed by the NationalPhilanthropic Trust, an independent charity andone of the top 40 grant makers in the United States.The Atkins Foundation collaborates with leadingprofessionals and organizations nationwide to fundresearch in nutrition and the management andtreatment of obesity and associated diseases.
Source: The Atkins Foundation