Vegans v Atkins: millionaire sues over diet

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The Independent US

Fresh questions surrounded the science of the popular Atkins diet yesterday after a Florida millionaire filed a lawsuit against the estate of the late Dr Robert Atkins, claiming that he almost died from heart disease last year following two years of the low-carbohydrate, high-protein regimen.

Fresh questions surrounded the science of the popular Atkins diet yesterday after a Florida millionaire filed a lawsuit against the estate of the late Dr Robert Atkins, claiming that he almost died from heart disease last year following two years of the low-carbohydrate, high-protein regimen.

The suit, the first in many years to involve the diet, was lodged on behalf of 53-year-old Jody Gorran by a group called Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, which advocates a no-meat, no-dairy, no-fish vegan lifestyle. It is well known for attacking the Atkins diet as unhealthy.

Mr Gorran, who owns a solar panel business in Florida, said in the law suit that he started on the Atkins diet in 2001 when his weight had gone up from 140lb to 148lb. He followed the version espoused in the 1999 edition of Dr Atkins' New Diet Revolution. The Atkins allows its followers to eat unlimited amount of high-fat foods such as meat and cheese, but only limited carbohydrate intake.

Mr Gorran said his problems began when he found that his cholesterol level increased from 146mg per decilitre to 230mg ­ considered a dangerously high level ­ within just two months. After suffering repeated episodes of chest pains, he sought attention in October last year.

Doctors found that a coronary artery was 99 per cent blocked and performed surgery, inserting a stent to open it.

Mr Gorran's law suit is seeking $28,000 (£15,260) damages from the late doctor's estate and from the company that still distributes his diet, Atkins Nutritionals. He is also demanding that the company post warnings in its literature and on its website about the dangers of rising cholesterol levels.

The company said it stood by "the science that has repeatedly reaffirmed the safety and health benefits of Atkins". It also sought to discredit the lawsuit, describing the Physicians Committee as a "well known vegan and animal-rights group" that has a "long history of these kinds of scare tactics that are designed to convince the American public to stop eating animal protein of any sort".

The same organisation was responsible for circulating reports ­ promptly denied ­ earlier this year that at the time of his death in April last year, Dr Atkins himself was obese and was suffering from congestive heart failure. The details were contained in a medical examiners' report which was handed to newspapers by the group.

Mr Gorran noted that the book advised that anyone experiencing a cholesterol increase should eat only lean proteins such as turkey, skinless chicken and fish. But it goes on to say: "If you are not happy on the low-fat version of the diet or get hungry, or don't feel well on it, then don't bother with it; go back to the regular Atkins diet that you enjoyed more".

Mr Gorran told The New York Times in an interview: "I contend there ought to be a warning on this diet. I'm seeking an injunction to prevent them from selling their products, books, or having their website without a warning, because they know one-third of the people on the diet will have what Atkins referred to as 'less favourable cholesterol'."

The American Heart Association declined to comment, but issued a statement. "Eating large amounts of high-fat foods for a sustained period raises the risk of coronary heart disease, diabetes, stroke and several types of cancer," it said.

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