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Crossfire

What's the Healthiest Way to Lose Weight?

Aired May 30, 2000 - 7:30 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

BILL PRESS, CO-HOST: Tonight, a real food fight! As the government releases new dietary guideline, two bestselling diet authors duke it out over the best way to lose weight. Which one has the better plan?

ANNOUNCER: Live from Washington, CROSSFIRE. On the left, Bill Press; on the right, Mary Matalin. In the crossfire, in New York, Dr. Robert Atkins, founder and medical director of the Atkins Center for Complementary Medicine and author of "Dr. Atkins New Diet Revolution," and in San Francisco. Dr. Dean Ornish, founder and director of the Preventive Medicine Research Institute and author of "Eat More, Weigh Less."

PRESS: Good evening. Welcome to CROSSFIRE. And tonight, a real food fight over real food on day one of the National Summit on Health and Nutrition here in Washington.

Yes, so many Americans are overweight, the federal government's decided to tell us how much we should exercise -- 30 minutes a day, five days a week -- and how much we should eat: two to three servings of meat, chicken or fish, and six to 11 helpings of carbohydrates everyday.

But as Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman learned today, for some people all this talk about eating meat is enough to stir up strong feelings.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAN GLICKMAN, U.S. SECRETARY OF AGRICULTURAL: Thank you, Donna, very...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Shame on you Dan Glickman, you meat pimp! Shame on you! Shame on you for promoting...

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PRESS: Meat pimp? Well, strong feelings, too, about how best to lose weight where tonight's guests are polar opposites.

Dr. Dean Ornish prescribes an ultra-low-fat diet: beans, fruits, vegetables, and whole grains mostly. Dr. Robert Atkins urges a high- protein, low-carbohydrate diet. You know, eat the hamburger and throwaway the bun. They both can't be right, or can they? Well, tonight, we suck in our stomachs, think thin, and try to figure it all out.

Bon appetite -- Mary.

MARY MATALIN, CO-HOST: Well, Dr. Atkins, welcome back once again, and I'm sure that woman wouldn't refer to you as a meat pimp, although that clearly is the main essence of the foundation of your diet.

Dean Ornish, with whom you've debated before, has had much to say about this diet. We're going to go through those issues as you and I have before.

But he's added one that I've never heard, and I think it's a particularly -- well, you may think it's a particularly low blow. He says that high-protein diets preclude sufficient blood flow to our most important organs. Therefore, insufficient blood flow to our brains makes us lethargic, to our heart makes us tired, and to our sexual organs makes us impotent.

I think he's suggesting that high protein means low libido. Can you address that?

DR. ROBERT ATKINS, ATKINS CENTER FOR COMPLEMENTARY MEDICINE: Well, I shouldn't have to. It doesn't happen. He may feel that he has something there, but he doesn't. There's no bottom-line evidence.

I have treated 50,000 patients with a high-protein diet, and all they tell me is that their sex life is better than it ever was.

So it just doesn't make any sense. If he wants to invent things, let him invent things. But he's really looking at some basic science, which doesn't carry out to the real world, because it isn't what happens.

What really happens is that we correct, when we put an overweight person on a low-carbohydrate diet, we correct what's wrong with them, because what's wrong with them is they put out too much insulin. They put out too much insulin -- as long as they're a little overweight, we see that over and over again. By the time they're considerably overweight, the insulin levels are off-the-chart they're so much higher than ever.

And insulin is really a killer. It was just shown in a recent study out of Toronto that it increased the death rate from breast cancer. This has nothing to do with obesity. Yet, the people with the highest insulin levels had 30 percents deaths when they were followed and only 5 percent were dying from the other kind, from the people who had low insulin levels.

MATALIN: OK. Let -- let -- the insulin -- reducing the insulin provocation is the essence of why the high protein works. But what Dr. Ornish says...

ATKINS: Absolutely. MATALIN: And I'm paraphrasing. He says you throw out the baby with the bath-water, because while throwing out simple carbohydrates -- wine, alcohol, which is on my seven food groups, every single one of them -- you throw out the complex carbohydrates, which are usually high in fiber, therefore their absorption is slow. And they can give you high energy and they're antioxidants and they produce all sorts of good health benefits. And we need to have them, and you eliminate them as well.

ATKINS: Well, let's look at what we really do. What we really do is correct what's wrong with an overweight person.

Think of this: An overweight person is someone who wants to burn that fat. Well, that fat is there for a purpose. The purpose of the fat is a back-up fuel system. So if you don't eat carbohydrates, your fat becomes your primary fuel and you start burning it. When that happens, everything is different, because when fat is being mobilized and used as fuel it's not being deposited.

And all the research that has showed that saturated fats are bad or that other fats are bad don't apply when fat is being used as the primary fuel. And that's the part of the research that Dean Ornish doesn't pay attention to and that the government and their food pyramid doesn't pay attention to.

PRESS: Dr. Ornish, on that point, let me ask you to step up to the plate, so to speak. And far be it for me to take sides in this debate, but a couple of months ago I went on the Atkins diet. I lost about 20 pounds. I miss pasta, I miss potatoes, but overall I've really enjoyed it, and I might add I have had -- suffered no loss of sex drive.

What's your beef with the Atkins diet?

DR. DEAN ORNISH, PREVENTATIVE MEDICINE RESEARCH INSTITUTE: Well, I'd love to tell people that eating pork rinds and bacon and sausage is a healthy way to lose weight, but it isn't. I'm glad you've been able to lose weight. There are lots of ways losing weight. You could go on chemotherapy and lose weight, but I don't recommend it as the optimal way.

When you go on a healthy diet, a diet like I recommend, that's predominantly fruits and vegetables and grains and beans in their natural forms, you can lose even more weight. You can actually keep it off, which no one has ever shown on an Atkins kind of diet. And instead of mortgaging your health in the process by doing what you've been doing, you're actually enhancing your health.

Meat is high in disease-causing substances like saturated fat, cholesterol, oxidants, and it's low in the ones that are protective, whereas you eat fruits and vegetables and grains and beans you're not only avoiding the substances that promote disease, like the ones we just mentioned, you're getting thousands of others that have anti- cancer, anti-aging and anti-heart disease properties.

PRESS: Well, but Dr. Ornish, a couple of problems here quickly. One of them is, I mean, you're talking about fruits and vegetables and beans and whole grains. I mean, you're trying to turn us all into a nation of vegetarians. It's not going to work!

ORNISH: Well, first of all, you don't have to be a vegetarian. If you're trying to reverse heart disease, that's what it takes. I'd love to be able to tell people that eating cheese burgers can reverse heart disease but it doesn't.

I'm a scientist. I'm a professor at the medical school at the University of California. I'm the president of a nonprofit research institute, and for the last 23 years my colleagues and I have published data in the leading peer-reviewed journals showing you can actually reverse heart disease in most cases by making these kinds of changes in diet and lifestyle that I recommend.

Now, I recognize that the public is confused, because Dr. Ornish says one thing, Dr. Atkins says another.

PRESS: Yes, right!

ORNISH: But you know, the whole point of science is to help people separate and sort through these conflicting claims. The difference between Dr. Atkins and me is that we've published in all the leading peer-reviewed medical journals. Dr. Atkins has never published a single study in any journal ever.

And that's the whole point of science is to say what is the evidence and to prove it, not just to say, oh, I've seen a lot of patients, but to prove it to the satisfaction of other people.

PRESS: Dr. Atkins?

ATKINS: Yes?

PRESS: You respond. I mean, you're not published; therefore, you're not for real.

ATKINS: Well, I am a practicing physician and I have treated 65,000 patients with a variety of problems, and it's certainly not just overweight. We've taken diabetics and reversed their diabetes. We've gotten hypertensive people off their medications.

I don't publish research. I treat patients. However, people have published research and they've been publishing for 50 years. The evidence that has been published is already overwhelming. It's overwhelming that the diet provides a metabolic advantage, that you can lose more fat calorie per calorie than on balanced diets or low- fat diets or an Ornish diet even. And there's no question about that.

MATALIN: Well, Dr. Atkins...

ATKINS: There's no question that it takes the appetite away, that...

PRESS: Go ahead, Dr. Ornish. It's OK.

ATKINS: ... one can eat unlimited quantities and still lose weight.

ORNISH: Well, if you'll let me, I will.

PRESS: Go ahead, Dr. Ornish.

ORNISH: The one study that doctor -- first of all, I think one of the points that Dr. Ayoob from the American Dietetic Association -- which, by the way, called Dr. Atkins' diet a nightmare of a diet -- when he and I debated Dr. Atkins earlier this year that the Department of Agriculture organized, one of the points that Dr. Atkins -- well, one of the points that Dr. Ayoob made is first you do research showing that something works, then you write books about it, not the other way around: because Dr. Atkins mentioned that he had commissioned Dr. Eric Westman to finally begin doing some studies. And Dr. Westman published -- or presented data.

And what did he say? The adverse effects of the Atkins diet: 70 percent become constipated; 65 percent develop bad breath; and so on.

Now, the reason for that is when you're eating a lot of meat and other...

ATKINS: Is that considered a bad side effect after you've lost 40 pounds, that you don't like...

ORNISH: I'd say bad...

ATKINS: Come on.

ORNISH: You know, if you go on an Atkins diet you might...

ATKINS: What about your sensible values?

ORNISH: You might be able to lose weight and attract people to you, but when they get to close, and they smell your breath and your body odor, they're going to be repelled, because that's how your body...

ATKINS: Oh, that's ridiculous! That doesn't happen in real life.

ORNISH: This is your own data.

ATKINS: That's doesn't happen.

ORNISH: Dr. Atkins, Dr. Atkins, excuse me a second.

ATKINS: As a matter of fact, people are doing research all the time...

ORNISH: These are your own data from studies that you funded, that 70 percent of the people become constipated or have bad breath. Now, the reason they have bad breath is because that's how your body excretes toxic substances, through your breath...

ATKINS: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) ORNISH: ... (UNINTELLIGIBLE) perspiration. Through your breath, through your perspiration and through your bowels.

PRESS: All right. One at a time.

ORNISH: And in fact...

ATKINS: You're wrong.

ORNISH: ... the number of...

ATKINS: What you just claimed is scientifically incorrect, again.

ORNISH: This is a study you commissioned, Dr. Atkins. I'm only quoting the study that you funded.

ATKINS: But the ketone breath is not necessarily bad breath; it's ketones, meaning you're burning up your fat. I like to have that breath, because I like to know I'm losing the weight, and so do my millions of followers and millions of patients. They love knowing they're burning their ketones. Happiness is a purple stick, and happiness is ketone breath.

MATALIN: That's right, Doctors, one man's bad breath is another's trimmed tummy, and now the government has a dog in this food fight. Should they? We'll discuss that when we come back CROSSFIRE. But in the meantime, you can calculate your body fat index at CNN.com/CROSSFIRE.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATLAIN: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE.

In a message to the National Nutrition Summit today, President Clinton noted we've made a lot of progress in nutrition since the first summit in 1969, but have we? We're more obsessed with dieting and less successful, a nation of fatties and couch potatoes, but that's because we're confused. Diet books line our shelves, each offering starkly treatises for trimming down. Of the bestsellers, who's right? High-protein advocate Dr. Robert Atkins, or low-fat proponent Dr. Dean Ornish -- Bill.

PRESS: Dr. Ornish, having tried your diet before and I've read about it, the rap that I hear is that you take so much fat away that there's no taste left, and people won't stay on your diet and can't stay on your diet because they hate what they're eating?

ORNISH: Well, there is an old joke: Am I going to live longer, or is it just going to seem longer I eat this way? But in fact, we've shown in our studies that hundreds of people around the country who participated in our direct clinical trials have been able to stay with this for a number of reason. The main reason is telling somebody that if they change, they're going to live to be, you know, 86 instead of 85, doesn't motivate most people, you know, even when they're 85. There's no point of giving up something that you like unless you get something back that's better, and not 30 years later, but a week or two later. And the paradox is that when you make dig changes in diet, most people find that they feel so much better so quickly that it reframes the reasons for changing diet from fear of dying to joy of living. You have more energy, because as you said before, your brain really does get more blood flow. That's been shown. We have shown in our studies that the heart gets more blood flow within weeks, and scientifically it has been shown that sexual organs get more blood flow, too, when you change your diet.

When I was in medical school, we were talking most impotence is in the head. It's really in your arteries, and the same mechanisms that affect blood flow to your heart also affect blood flow -- that's why Viagra works, because it dilates your arteries.

PRESS: Doctor, you keep asserting that I'm impotent and constipated. I repeat, I am neither, OK, neither.

ORNISH: No, I'm not. But you know what, there are a lot of people in this country -- please don't take this as personal disparagement on your manhood.

PRESS: I do.

ORNISH: There are a lot of people -- but look at this, what was the biggest selling drug of all time last year? Viagra. You may not have this problem, a lot of people do.

PRESS: I'm not on that either.

ORNISH: I understand. I appreciate that. Stay on the Atkins diet a little longer, we'll see what happens.

ATKINS: Come on, be a little accurate, will you?

ORNISH: But there are a lot of people in this country who have this problem. Look, there are a number of published studies that show if your cholesterol level is above 250, you're 80 percent more likely to have problems with your sexual function than if it's below 180. That's a lot more motivating for a lot of us.

PRESS: Dr. Atkins, save us here. Dr. Atkins, I know you wanted to jump in.

ATKINS: Oh my God, this man is an expert on the Ornish diet. That's how much inexpert he is on somebody else's diet. And it's unbelievable. None of the stuff that he says happens is what happens.

Let me tell about a study that was done that I didn't fund, and I just learned about it. It was done at Snyder Children's Hospital. It was done on adolescents. and it was a 12-week study. There were 30 of them. They put them on an 1,100-calorie diet, mostly carbohydrates. And in 12 weeks, they 8 1/2 pounds. Then they said go on an 8 percent carbohydrate diet, very similar to mine, as a matter of fact, identical to mine, and they could have as many calories as they wanted, and they chose to eat, on the average 1,830 calories, 730 more, and they lost 19 pounds, more than double the amount of weight. At the same time, the triglycerides dropped 50 percent, and the HDL went up, whereas the people on the 1,100 calorie Ornish-type diet only lost of 10 points off their triglycerides and they're HDL...

(CROSSTALK)

ORNISH: Let me respond to that. Let me respond to that.

MATALIN: Go ahead, Dr. Ornish.

ORNISH: First of all, the one area that Dr. Atkins and I actually agree upon is that when you eat a lot of simple sugars, like sugar, white flour, alcohol, which your body converts to sugar, they get absorbed quickly, your blood sugar zooms up, your pancreas makes insulin to bring in back down, which is good, but insulin has other effects that aren't good. It causes you to convert calories into fat. It promotes heart disease and other things. We agree on that. But we don't agree that that's everything, because according to Dr. Atkins, that's the key to everything. For me, it's one of many mechanisms, but it is an important one.

ATKINS: There are other mechanisms I know about too, you know.

ORNISH: But the goal is not to go from simple carbohydrates to pork rinds or bacon. The goal is to go from simply carbohydrates...

ATKINS: Do you think pork rinds are fat, by the way, Ornish? Do you think they're fat?

ORNISH: Can I just finish the point I'm trying to make? The goal is...

ATKINS: You keep talking about. You know that's one of the leanest proteins there is, pork rinds? I hope you know that.

ORNISH: The goal is now to go from simply carbohydrates to pork rinds. The goal is to go from simple carbohydrates to whole foods. Mary, as you mentioned earlier, fruits and vegetables, grains, beans are rich in fiber...

ATKINS: Well, that's your goal, but that doesn't help the overweight people.

ORNISH: You'd love to be able to complete my sentences.

PRESS: Timeout. Timeout.

MATALIN: Well, let's both take a timeout here, because pork rinds, if they're high fat or low fat, they're just awful, no matter what. But today, why we're having this show today, is because the government put out their new pyramid that we all grew up on.

And, Dr. Atkins, their biggest box is your least prescribed food, and one of their smaller boxes is the foundation of your diet. Do you think the government would be -- and this it is from this pyramid of course and these food groups that the school lunch program is driven. So surely, you are not saying that the government would be encouraging a nation of bad eating habits?

ATKINS: Well, they are. They've already done it. They are the perpetrators of the obesity epidemic, and it was the same food pyramid with 6-9 servings of white flour that really turned the tide and created obesity in children, created adult onset diabetes in children as well. And this is the same thing, and they renewed it again, and they said still the same food pyramid; they didn't change that. That's the culprit, that's the perpetrator of the epidemic. And if they can't see that, then they can't see anything. They don't know how to say two Latin words: "mea culpa."

PRESS: Dr. Ornish, let me ask you about that. I mean, for the last 20 years, the feds have been putting out this longer, 30 or 40 years, I guess. They've been putting out this pyramid. They've been telling people how they should eat, and over the same period, the number of obese Americans, or Americans overweight, has gone from 33 percent now to 52 percent. So why should anybody listen to anything that the feds say about nutrition?

ORNISH: Because again, what has risen over the last 30 years is the consumption of sugar and white flour. Do you know one-third of the vegetables that people eat are either french fries or...

PRESS: But whoa, let me stop you there. Isn't...

ATKINS: Why wouldn't white flour go up? That's what they're pushing.

PRESS: Hold on, hold on.

Dr. Ornish, isn't part of the reason that so many people have gone to sugar is because people like you have said, don't eat the fat. So the food producers have come out the with all of these low-fat cookies, low-fat desserts, right, low-fat ice cream?

ORNISH: Bill, I agree with you, and I think probably one of the reasons that you might have lost weight is that most Americans eat a lot of sugar, and there was this belief that if it's low in fat, it's good. That's not the diet that I recommend. It's not just low fat. You can eat Snackwell cookies, and Wonder Bread, and tea and toast, and drink Dr. Pepper and Coke and say, well, that's a low-fat diet. It's not a healthy diet.

Again, Dr. Atkins and I do agree that people shouldn't eat so much sugar, white flour and things that are simple carbohydrates. Where we disagree is that what I think they should be eating are fruits and vegetable, grains and beans, whole wheat flour, brown rice. They're rich in fiber. They don't provoke an instant response. And Americans have been eating tons of sugar. You know, as I started to say before, a third of the vegetables that Americans eat are french fries or potato chips. Those act like sugar. That's not a healthy way to eat. I'm not advocating simply a low-fat diet. It's a whole foods, natural, high in complex carbohydrates, low in simple sugars diet.

PRESS: Doctors, with all of this talk about food, I'm getting hungry and we're out of time. We've got to stop it right there.

Pork versus pasta, not sure we resolved it, but great debate. Doctors, thanks you, Dr. Ornish in San Francisco, Dr. Atkins in New York.

We'll have you back again after we lose a few more pounds.

Mary and I will be back for closing comments.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATALIN: Mr. Ketone Breath, I can not -- you do look great, by the way, can't speak for your sex drive, but reduced blood flow might explain your lethargic heart and brain since you've on this diet.

PRESS: You meat pimp you.

(LAUGHTER)

PRESS: I mean, come on. Let me just tell you why this whole food pyramid is not going to work. One of the things they recommend daily, here it is, a half of a cup of tofu.

MATALIN: That's your food, whale lover.

PRESS: Wait. Wait. And a two and a half ounce soy burger. Are you kidding? I wouldn't eat tofu if you paid me.

(LAUGHTER)

MATALIN: Ketone breath.

PRESS: From the left, I'm Bill Press.

Good night for CROSSFIRE.

MATALIN: And from the right, I'm Mary Matalin. Join us again tomorrow night for more CROSSFIRE.

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