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Vintage Cookbooks: Atkins' diet has detractors, but the results may speak for themselves

Thursday, June 05, 2003

By Alice Demetrius Sotck, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Summertime... and the livin' is easy." But the losin' of the winter weight gain is hard.

I searched through my diet cookbooks recently for recipes that would taste good, be guilt-free and would possibly help me rid myself of at least eight pounds in the next two months. When we meet in August for our annual beach vacation in Rehoboth, Del., I'll be facing my slim, fit Daughter-the-Dancer in a bathing suit, and this year I don't want to look like a beached whale sitting beside her.

Among my collection of diet cookbooks, I came across "Dr. Atkins' Diet Cook Book," a 1974 paperback with a cover photo of a young Robert Atkins, a Cornell University-trained cardiologist, sitting at his desk, smiling. He had a lot to smile about then and even more later.

In 1972, Atkins gained national attention with "Dr. Atkins' Diet Revolution," a somewhat unorthodox weight-loss plan emphasizing unlimited protein (meat, fish, shellfish, eggs and cheese) but only a small amount of carbohydrate (bread, cereal, sugary fruits and starchy vegetables).

At that time, much of the rest of the medical community believed carbohydrates were the basis of a healthy diet and eating fats made people fat.

Even though the Atkins diet was strongly criticized, with many professionals arguing that it "could affect kidney function, raise cholesterol levels and deprive the dieter of important nutrients," during the 1990s, "Dr. Atkins' New Diet Revolution" was a best seller for five years. Ten million copies were sold as millions of people around the world tried the diet.

In February of this year, Atkins' weight-loss plan was finally vindicated after a number of independent studies showed that people on his diet lost weight without compromising their health and that their cardiovascular risk factors and overall cholesterol profiles actually changed for the better.

In April, on his way to his New York City office, Atkins slipped on an icy sidewalk and hit his head. He never regained consciousness, dying at age 72.

Atkins' recipes for a dinner buffet include melon balls and a hard cheese platter for the hors d'oeuvre course; beef stroganoff, coq au vin, ratatouille and tossed greens with Atkins' favorite Roquefort dressing for the entree along with a dry Chablis, and for dessert -- chocolate cream "pudding," coconut snowflakes (coconut-covered homemade ice cream) and meringue shells filled with glazed strawberries.

Besides recipes, "Atkins' Diet Cook Book" includes suggested lists of approved foods from a variety of restaurants such as Chinese, French, Italian and vegetarian.

From a steak house, for instance, a dieter might choose a crabmeat cocktail with lemon butter instead of seafood sauce, onion soup, rack of lamb, mixed green salad with Roquefort dressing, broiled mushrooms, strawberries and cream.

From a dairy or vegetarian menu: a salmon or tuna fish salad, a cheese and mushroom omelet, broiled or baked trout, flounder or sole and blueberries in sour cream.

Coffee, tea and diet soda are acceptable.

Without arguing about Dr. Atkins' ideas -- that a low-carbohydrate diet is better than a low-fat diet -- it seems reasonable to expect that a diet that doesn't seem to work for one person just may work for someone else and vice versa.

The trick is for each of us to find what does work, and stick with it until the unhealthy fat melts away.

That's hard...but not impossible.

Atkins' Roquefort Dressing

Not only tasty on greens, but also interesting over cantaloupe or sliced strawberries.

  • 1/4 cup tarragon vinegar (or your favorite flavored vinegar)

  • 1/4 teaspoon seasoned salt
  • 3 turns of a pepper mill
  • 6 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons heavy cream
  • 1/2 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup crumbled Roquefort (blue cheese)

    Whisk all ingredients together except the cheese.

    Stir in the cheese.

    Refrigerate any leftovers. Makes 1 cup.

"Dr. Atkins' Diet Cook Book," Robert C. Atkins, 1974.

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