Many overweight people have tried and then abandoned diets that forbid their favorite foods.  One popular but non-traditional plan ? the low-carbohydrate diet ? offers an alternative.  The medical establishment has long been skeptical about the wisdom of low-carbohydrate diets. 

These plans allow dieters to keep eating high-protein, high-fat foods as long as they sharply restrict their intake of bread, potatoes, rice and other "starchy" foods.  The skeptics were surprised by a reputable Harvard University study last year that found such diets carry no increased risk of heart disease.  And a new study, just released Tuesday by Stanford University, confirms those findings and suggests which is the most effective diet plan.

In 1972, the late Dr. Robert Atkins turned the diet world upside down, telling people who need to lose weight that they must sharply restrict their intake of carbohydrate-rich foods such as bread and potatoes.  Atkins' advice seemed revolutionary.  He said dieters could freely eat foods high in saturated fats, including red meat, cream, butter and cheese.

Despite a chilly response from the medical establishment, "The Atkins Diet" became a worldwide sensation.  Most who tried it, people like Christine Dillon, were happy with the results.

"I was on the Atkins diet for about nine months and lost between 10 and 15 pounds [between five and seven kilograms].  But much more importantly, I lost two dress sizes."

Dillon took part in the latest study about low-carbohydrate diets, conducted by Stanford University.  She was among 300 women who followed one of four different diets for a full year. 

Lead researcher Christopher Gardner, Ph.D., looked at more than weight loss.

"One of the concerns that health professionals have had about these very-low-carbohydrate diets is that possibly the high fat content would be bad for people in terms of their cholesterol levels or their blood pressure."

But the women on the Atkins diet had healthy blood-pressure and cholesterol levels.  On average, they also lost more than twice as much weight as the women on the other diets, which had fewer restrictions on carbohydrate intake.

Gardner says the simplicity of the Atkins diet may be the key to its success. "Cutting out those simple, refined carbohydrates ?  the white bread, the white rice, the high-fructose corn syrup, the soda pop."

The women on the Atkins diet replaced sugary sodas with plain water.  Gardner says that may have played a big role in their weight loss.

Cardiologist Dr. Randall Stafford co-authored the study.  He says you reduce the risk of heart disease when you keep your weight at a healthy level.

"This study will change my practices," said Stafford. "In the future, I'm going to be more supportive of patients who come in already on an Atkins diet, and I'm certainly going to suggest this diet as a possible, reasonable approach to weight loss."

Results of the new study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, could have wide implications, since obesity has become a significant worldwide problem.

Some video courtesy Journal of the American Medical Association