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Vindication for the Atkins diet?

CNN medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta

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(CNN) -- For years, some doctors have dismissed the Atkins diet, but the high fat, low carb diet might finally be getting its due. A new study partly funded by the Atkins Foundation suggests the diet can improve cholesterol levels while lowering weight. CNN medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta joined CNN anchor Paula Zahn on American Morning to explain the research.

ZAHN: Don't you immediately have to be suspicious when you hear that the study was in part funded by the guy who wrote the diet? What else would the study tell you? It's not going to tell you it's a terrible diet.

GUPTA: You have to be skeptical of something like that. There are other studies under way, including one by the National Institutes of Health, which will be probably the bigger, more important study to actually determine whether or not this diet actually is not only beneficial in terms of losing weight, but also not as detrimental to your cholesterol or to your heart, and that's been the big question.

All these critics have been saying you may lose weight on this diet over a few weeks or months, but what is it doing to your heart? What is it doing to your cholesterol?

Look at some of the numbers from this early, very small study:

• Thirty-one pounds lost on Atkins versus 20 pounds on a low-fat diet recommended by the American Heart Association.

• HDL, that's the good cholesterol, up six with the Atkins. Down two with the AHA diet.

• LDL -- the bad cholesterol -- didn't change much with either diet.

• Triglycerides: You can see a big difference, actually down 80 with the Atkins, up 40 with the AHA.

These numbers are not the numbers that people expected. They're sort of astonished that the cholesterol profile is actually that good with an Atkins diet. There are a lot of people smiling about this right now. And at least with this small study partially funded by this Atkins Foundation, they appear to be right. More studies need to be done.

ZAHN: What does that mean to the average dieter out there, then? Should that encourage them to try this style of dieting?

GUPTA: One really important (thing) about Atkins I need to point out is besides just the high fat -- and we're talking 60 percent of your diet coming from fat, less than 20 grams of carbohydrates -- there are also recommendations of the Atkins (diet) that a lot (of people) don't abide by.

One of the big ones, you have to take a fish oil supplement with the diet. We know fish oil is good. We know fish oil lowers cholesterol. People on this Atkins diet were given the fish oil. People on the AHA diet were not.

I'm not sure what the message is for dieters right now. I'm not sure people should say everyone start doing Atkins. But the food pyramid isn't practical for people either. We need studies on diets that people can actually live by, and this may be one of them. And if the further studies show it's not that bad for your heart, it's not that bad for your cholesterol if you take the fish oil and everything, it may be a good option for people.

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