The Government has stepped into the debate over the Atkins diet by issuing a warning on the dangers of low-carbohydrate regimes.

Sam Church, senior scientific officer in the Food Standard Agency's nutrition division, said carbohydrates were an "essential" part of a healthy diet. "Cutting out starchy foods, or any food group, can be bad for your health because you could be missing out on a range of nutrients. This type of diet also tends to be unrealistic and dull, and not palatable enough to be tolerated for a long time," he wrote in an article on the FSA's website. Although he does not mention the Atkins diet directly, the article talks of the "publicity" surrounding low- carbohydrate regimes.

Dr Robert Atkins' diet cuts out carbohydrates and boosts consumption of protein without having to avoid fatty foods. Dr Atkins believed that carbohydrates such as bread, pasta, rice and starchy vegetables over-stimulated the production of insulin, resulting in hunger and weight gain.

But the FSA's advice said that low-carbohydrate diets "tend to be high in fat", leading to the risk of heart disease, diabetes and cancer. "High-fat diets are also associated with obesity, which is currently increasing in the UK," Mr Church wrote. "People who are obese are more likely to develop conditions such as diabetes and some cancers."

A spokesman for the FSA said the article was not aimed directly at the Atkins model. "You should have a balanced diet and a low-carbohydrate diet is not a balanced diet. But [the article] is not a direct rebuttal of the Atkins diet. We don't endorse or criticise specific diets," he said.

He also played down suggestions that the website advice was prompted by continuing controversy over the Atkins diet. "It is part of a lot of our advice on diet, which we always have done, so I am not quite sure about that. This is nutritional advice that has been around for ages," he said.

The Atkins diet has seen a surge in popularity, despite warnings from experts on both sides on the Atlantic that it is potentially dangerous.

A poll for the Tonight With Trevor McDonald programme on ITV earlier this month suggested that as many as 7 per cent of British men and 10 per cent of women had tried or were using the diet.