Increased Risk of Cancer Associated with The Atkins Diet

This is part of a weeklong review of the popular Dr. Atkins high-protein low-carbohydrate diet-style. See Monday's post for an overview. The following is from Dr. Fuhrman's book Eat to Live:

Robert Atkins's books, as well as other authors advocating high-protein weight-loss plans, recommend diets for health and weight loss with significantly more animal protein than is typically consumed by the average American. Americans already eat approximately 40 percent of their calories from animal products; we have seen a tragic skyrocketing in cancer and heart-disease rates in the past fifty years as a result of such nutritional extravagance.1 You can lose some weight on the Atkins Diet, but you run the risk of losing your health at the same time.

Atkins recommends that you eat primarily high-fat, high-protein, fiberless animal foods and attempt to eliminate carbohydrates from your diet. Atkins's menus average 60-75 percent of calories from fat and contain no whole grains and nor fruit. Analyses of the proposed menus show animal products make up more than 90 percent of the calories in the diet.

Hundreds of scientific studies have documented the link between animal products and various cancers. Though it would be wrong to say that animal foods are the sole cause of cancer it is now clear that increased consumption of animal products combined with the decreased consumption of fresh produce has the most powerful effect on increasing one's risk for various kinds of cancer. Atkins convinces his followers that he knows better than leading nutritional research scientists who proclaim that "meat consumption is an important factor in the etiology of human cancer."2

Atkins devotees adopt a dietary pattern completely opposite of what is recommended by the leading research scientists studying the link between diet and cancer.3 Specifically, fruit exclusion alone is a significant cancer marker. Stomach and esophageal cancer are linked to populations that do not consume a sufficient amount of fruit.4 Scientific studies show a clear and strong dose-response relationship between cancers of the digestive tract, bladder, and prostate with low fruit consumption.5 To the surprise of many investigators, fruit consumption shows a powerful dose-response association with a reduction in heart disease, cancer, and all-cause mortality.6 There is also a striking consistency in many scientific investigations that show a reduction in incidence of colorectal and stomach cancer with the intake of whole grains.7 Colon cancer is strongly associated with the consumption of animal products.8 And these researchers have concluded that the varying level of colon cancer in the low-incidence population compared with the high-incidence population could not be explained by "protective" factors such as fiber, vitamins, and minerals; rather, it was influenced almost totally by the consumption of animal products and fat.

More saturated fat & less fruit = Higher cancer risk

Less saturated fat & more fruit = Lower cancer risk

There are numerous ways to lose weight. However "effective" they may be, some are just not safe. We wouldn't advocate smoking cigarettes or snorting cocaine simply because doing so would be effective in promoting weight loss. Advocating a weight-loss program based on severe carbohydrate restriction is irresponsible. You may pay a substantial price--your life! As was the case with Dr. Atkins's own death, most likely a heart attack that resulted in the slip and fall.

Check back tomorrow for a review of the short and long-term dangers of high-fat diets.

1. Word Health Organization. 1996. Food balance sheets, online at

2. Tavani, A., C. La Vecchia, S. Gallus, et al. 2000. Red meat and cancer risk: a study in Italy. Int. J. Cancer 86 (3): 425-28.

3. Kuller, L.H. 1997. Dietary fat and chronic disease: epidemiological overview. J. Am. Diet. Assoc. 97 (7 supp.): s9-15; Willet, W.C. 1997. Nutrition and cancer. Salud Publica Mex. 39 (4): 298-309; La Vecchia, C. 1992. Cancer associated with high-fat diets. J. Natl. Cancer Inst. Monogr. 12: 79-85; Steinmetz, K.A., and J.D. Potter. 1996. Vegetables, fruit, and cancer prevention: a review. J. Am. Diet. Assoc. 96 (10): 1027-39.

4. Brown, L. M., C.A. Swanson, G. Gridley, et al. 1998. Dietary factors and the risk of squamous cell esophageal cancer among black and white men in the United States. Cancer Causes Control 7 (1): 33-40; Hirohata, T., and S. Kono. 1997. Diet/nutrition and stomach cancer in Japan. Int. J. Cancer supp. 10: 34-36; Kono, S., and T. Hirohata. 1996. Nutrition and stomach cancer. Cancer Causes Control 7 (1) 41-45; Terry, P., O. Nyren, and J. Yuen. 1998. Protective effect of fruits and vegetables on stomach cancer in a cohort of Swedish twins. Int. J. Caner 76 (1):35-37.

5. Willett, W.C., and D. Trichopoulos, eds. 1996. Nutrition and cancer: a summary of evidence. Cancer Causes Control 7: 178-80; La Vecchia, C., and A. Tavani. 1998. Fruit and vegetables, and human cancer. Eur. J. Cancer Prev. 7 (1): 3-8; Tavani. A., and C. La Vecchia. 1995. Fruit and vegetable consumption and cancer risk in a Mediterranean population. Am. J. Clin. Nutr. 61 (6): 1374-77S.

6. Key, T.J. A., M. Thorogood, P.N. Appleby, and M.L. Burr. 1996. Dietary habits and mortality in 11,000 vegetarians and health conscious people: results of a 17-year follow up. MBJ 313: 775-79.

7. Jacobs, D.R., J. Slavin, and L. Marquart. 1995. Whole grain intake and cancer: a review of the literature. Nutrition and Cancer 24: 221-29.

8. O'Keefe, S.J., M. Kidd, G. Espitalier-Noel, and P. Owira. 1999. Rarity of colon cancer in Africans is associated with low animal product consumption, not fiber. Am. J. Gastroenterol. 94 (5): 1373-80.

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Comments (5) Read through and enter the discussion with the form at the end
Dana - April 5, 2006 9:50 PM

I can't seem to find the subject anywhere on this website about fat loss versus weight loss. Do I need to eat a certain amount of protein to maintain my lean body mass and burn fat, or do I just need to keep my glycogen stores in check by consuming adequate nutrient dense calories?

Gerry Pugliese - April 6, 2006 9:05 AM


If you're worried about protein consumption check out this post:

Popeye Was Right—Greens Pack a Powerful Punch

You'll be surprised by what you find out.

nanceen - September 1, 2007 12:01 PM

Dr. Atkins does not state in his book to only eat meat and never touch fruit or vegetables. That is complete nonsense. Sit down, read the book from cover to cover. You simply eliminate REFINED carbohydrates and gradually introduce complex carbohydrates until you reach the right amount you need to maintain your weight. And you can also do Atkins vegetarian. I did Atkins seven years ago and lost 75 lbs. I struggled with obesity and a low fat diet for years. At one point I weighed 205 and ate no more than 10 to 20 grams of fat per day with no more than 1200 calories. I felt terrible all the time. I did the conventional calorie limiting, eat fruit, carbs three times a day, low fat diet for years and weighed 205lbs on a 5' 2" frame! On Atkins I Lowered my cholesterol 60 points (now normal range) and eat between 1800 and 2300 per day. Why his book is not read cover to cover by his critics I will never know. Today I am 50, weigh a bikini and will never go back to eating a trashy high carbohydrate only diet. I eat plenty of vegetables, oils, fats, meats, yogurt, oatmeal all in abundance with NO FRUIT and I feel terrific. It works for me and I am glad to be alive.

Dr Onatcog. - September 27, 2008 7:27 PM

I think that it should be noted that most meat today is radiated, and THAT not the actual consumption of it is probably responsible for the spike in cancer for those who consume more meat products.

This article also fails to mention that vegetarians have a higher incidence of generalized stomach cancers than do meat/vege eaters.

Good day.

Cori - September 27, 2008 10:03 PM

Grass-fed beef has CLA among other important nutrients and has the right omega-3 to omega-6 ratio. That's just the beginning of the argument....

Let's really get at the truth behind what causes cancer. Science does not support the claim that red meat or saturated fat is responsible for cancer. Both have basically been vindicated.

Science is beginning to show that methylation is very important in cancer prevention. Some of the best methyl-donating foods come from animal products.

Support local, humane grass-fed cattle farming.

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