* Diet cut weight, LDL cholesterol, blood pressure
* Commentators say bigger, longer studies needed
CHICAGO, June 8 A vegetarian version of the Atkins low-carb diet may help people lose weight and lower levels of bad cholesterol in the blood, Canadian researchers said on Monday.
A small, month-long study of the so-called Eco-Atkins diet, which stresses plant proteins, worked better than a high-carb diet at reducing levels of low-density lipoprotein or LDL, which raises the risks of heart attacks and strokes.
It also showed signs of lowering blood pressure, a team led by Dr. David Jenkins of St. Michael's Hospital and the University of Toronto in Ontario, reported in the Archives of Internal Medicine.
The traditional Atkins low-carb diet, in which people cut out carbohydrates and eat more meat, has been shown to help lower blood fats known as triglycerides and raise high-density lipoprotein cholesterol or HDL, the "good" cholesterol, but it also tends to raise bad cholesterol levels.
Jenkins and colleagues looked to see if a vegetarian version of the Atkins diet that was high in vegetable proteins from gluten, soy, nuts, fruits, vegetables, cereals and vegetable oils might have more heart benefits.
The study involved 22 overweight men and women with high levels of LDL cholesterol who ate the Eco-Atkins diet for four weeks. A control group of 22 people ate a high-carb, low-fat diet based on low-fat dairy and whole grain products.
People in both groups ate about 60 percent of their estimated calorie requirements.
After a month, people in both groups lost about four kilograms, or 8.8 pounds. But people on the low-carb, plant protein diet had lower LDL cholesterol and healthier blood pressure compared with those on the high-carb diet.
Jenkins said the study suggests a plant-based low-carb diet may be an effective option for people with high cholesterol who want to lose weight.
Dr. Katherine Tuttle and Joan Milton of University of Washington School of Medicine in Spokane said in a commentary the study points to potentially safer low-carb diets for people with heart problems.
But they said it is "premature" to recommend the "Eco-Atkins" diet without larger and longer-term studies in higher-risk patients. (Editing by Maggie Fox and Eric Walsh)