London, July 18: Hollywood celebrities swear by it and only Harry Potter is more popular. The grip on the nation of the Atkins meat-and-a-few-veg-but-no-starch diet is revealed today in sales figures showing the late doctorís books outselling other non-fiction bestsellers by three to one.
The merits of the high protein, high fat, low carbohydrate regime devised by Dr Robert Atkins in the late 1960s may have been widely derided by nutritionists and scientists, but its ability to shed pounds rapidly has won the support of millions of dieters. Jennifer Aniston, Brad Pitt, Minnie Driver and Stephen Fry have extolled the relative ease with which the late doctor's teachings helped them lose weight. Catherine Zeta Jones used the diet to shed weight after the birth of her first son, Dylan, while Renee Zellweger credits Atkins with helping her slim down after piling on the pounds to play Bridget Jones.
Among celebrity adherents, only Geri Halliwell, whose dramatic change of body shape was accompanied by concerns that the diet was affecting her future ability to have children, sounded a cautious note.
The twin bibles of Atkins disciples, Dr Atkins' Diet Revolution and New Diet Revolution, have been tucked into the shelves of nearly 15 million dieters. For an insignificant financial investment, these books promise very significant weight loss. As a result, the paperback version of New Diet Revolution is selling at the rate of 30,000 a week in Britain ó three times more than any other book bar the latest Harry Potter tome.
But this summerís non-fiction publishing success has a downside that goes far beyond the bad breath, constipation, weakness, cramps and culinary boredom that usually beset Atkins dieters.
Nutritionists warn that the unbalanced diet flies in the face of all health advice to eat at least five portions of fresh fruit and vegetables a day. More worryingly, scientists and medics say the Atkins regime could be creating a ticking time bomb of widespread heart disease, kidney failure, bowel cancer, osteoporosis, strokes, muscle wastage and high cholesterol.
But of most concern to Atkins dieters will be the finding by several teams of scientists and nutritionists that the regime does not guarantee long-term weight loss. Researchers from three American universities studied 132 obese people who were an average of 50lb overweight. A group put on the Atkins diet lost weight faster than another group on a conventional low-fat diet, but a year later there was no difference between the two groups.