A new study has further fuelled the debate between Atkins fans and nutritionists who follow the traditional practice of limiting calories to reduce weight.
The small trial, carried out by researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health, found that low-carbohydrate diets, promoted by the Atkins regime, could allow people to consume more calories without the weight gain seen in the traditional low-fat diet.
Presented at this week's American Association for the Study of Obesity conference in Texas, the study had several critics and the Wheat Council reacted by pointing out the study's flaws.
The study, funded by the Atkins foundation, found that people eating an extra 300 calories a day on a very low-carb regimen lost just as much weight during a 12-week study as those on a standard low-fat diet.
In the study, 21 overweight volunteers were randomly assigned to either low-fat or low-carb diets with 1,500 calories for women and 1,800 for men and a third group on a low-carb diet consumed an extra 300 calories a day.
All meals were prepared at a restaurant so researchers could record exactly what participants ate. The diet included fish, chicken, salads, vegetables and unsaturated oils, rather than the saturated fats and meat normally associated with the Atkins diet.
All subjects lost weight but those on the low-calorie, low-carb diet lost 23 pounds, while people who got the same calories on the low-fat approach lost 17 pounds. The people eating an extra 300 calories a day of low-carb food also lost 20 pounds.
"It's very intriguing, but it raises more questions than it answers," Gary Foster of the University of Pennsylvania told an Associated Press report. "There is lots of data to suggest this shouldn't be true."
While many experts found the results difficult to swallow, the Wheat Foods Council reacted by pointing to the study's lack of variables such as metabolic rates at baseline and after the 12 weeks study period. A standard 1500- or 1800-calorie-a-day diet may create different energy deficits, depending upon initial body weight and composition, it said.
It also suggested that subjects' exercise habits and whether theyactually ate all the food provided should have been controlled.
"A 12-week study is not long enough to conclude anything regarding the effects of this diet - a longer look using [further] variables would be necessary to validate these results," said the statement.
The trial follows other studies out this year that have also supported the efficacy of the Atkins diet and despite the lack of long-term evidence to reveal possible side-effects, growing consumer demand has been enough to prompt food companies to launch low-carb products, with the latest range from Hain Celestial announced earlier this week.