NEW YORK (AP) - Dr. Robert C. Atkins, whose best-selling low-carbohydrate, high-protein diet was dismissed as nutritional folly for years but was recently validated in some research, died Thursday, his spokesman said. He was 72.
Atkins died at New York Weill-Cornell Medical Center and was surrounded by his wife and close friends, said Richard Rothstein, his spokesman.
Atkins had suffered a severe head injury April 8 after falling on an icy sidewalk while walking to work.
Atkins first advocated his unorthodox weight-loss plan - which emphasizes meat, eggs and cheese and discourages bread, rice and fruit - in his 1972 book, ``Dr. Atkins' Diet Revolution.''
Its publication came at a time when the medical establishment was encouraging a low-fat, high-carbohydrate diet. The following year, the American Medical Association dismissed Atkins' diet as nutritional folly and Congress summoned him to Capitol Hill to defend the plan.
Labeling it ``potentially dangerous,'' the AMA said the diet's scientific underpinning was ``naive'' and ``biochemically incorrect.'' It scolded the book's publishers for promoting ``bizarre concepts of nutrition and dieting.''
Despite this, his books sold 15 million copies, and millions of people tried the diet. Atkins' philosophy enjoyed a resurgence in the 1990s with ``Dr. Atkins' New Diet Revolution,'' which sold more than 10 million copies worldwide and spent five years on The New York Times best-seller list.
But criticism of the diet lingered, with many arguing that it could affect kidney function, raise cholesterol levels and deprive the dieter of important nutrients.
Atkins said no study showed that people with normal kidney function developed problems because of a high-protein diet, and he never gave in to his detractors.
Defending his plan at the American Dietetic Association's convention in 2000, Atkins quipped, ``I'm very happy to be here. Not as happy as Daniel in the lion's den.''
This year, his approach was vindicated in part by the very medical community that scorned him. In February, some half-dozen studies showed that people on the Atkins diet lost weight without compromising their health. The studies showed that Atkins dieters' cardiovascular risk factors and overall cholesterol profiles changed for the better.
Still, many of the researchers were reluctant to recommend the Atkins diet, saying a large new study now under way could settle lingering questions of its long-term effects.
On the Atkins diet, up to two-thirds of calories may come from fat - more than double the usual recommendation, and violating what medical professionals have long believed about healthy eating. Carbohydrates are the foundation of a good diet, most say. Eating calorie-dense fat is what makes people fat, they say, and eating saturated fat is dangerous.
To Atkins, the key dietary villain in obesity was carbohydrates. He argued they make susceptible people pump out too much insulin, which in turn encourages them to put on fat.