What is the Atkins
The Atkins diet promotes itself as a long-term, low-carbohydrate eating
plan for weight loss and maintenance. This diet emphasizes eating protein,
fat, and low-starch vegetables. Simple carbohydrates, such as flour and sugar,
are highly restricted or eliminated altogether.
The Atkins diet is a high-protein, high-fat, and
Cardiologist Robert C. Atkins created the Atkins diet in
1972. Dr. Atkins argued that dietary fat isn’t what makes us overweight,
suggesting instead that carbohydrates are to blame. By restricting carbs,
dieters are told they can drop considerable amounts of weight without giving up
foods they enjoy.
According to Dr. Atkins, carbohydrates cause a spike in
blood sugar levels. This spike causes the body to store fat. Dr. Atkins
concluded that by greatly reducing your carbohydrate consumption your body would
burn stored fat and do a better job of regulating blood sugar levels.
There are four phases of the Atkins diet:
- Phase 1: Carbohydrates are
limited to 20 grams per day. This is where the most dramatic weight loss
- Phase 2: Carbohydrate intake is
slightly increased. Here, dieters can add certain vegetables, berries,
nuts, and seeds back into their diet, slightly increasing carb intake
without stopping weight loss. This is the longest stage of the diet. You
stay here until you are about 10 pounds from your weight loss goal.
- Phase 3: Called “pre-maintenance,”
this stage allows you to add 10 grams of carbohydrates to your diet each
week, including starchy vegetables and some whole grains. If weight loss
stops, you cut carbs again — just enough to maintain a steady weight loss
until you reach your goal.
- Phase 4: This is a lifetime
maintenance stage with a target carb intake of 45 to 100 grams per day.
The Atkins diet promises to help you lose excess weight and
keep it off by consuming fewer carbohydrates. Limiting carb intake is supposed
to burn greater amounts of fat and keep blood sugar levels within a healthy
range. The diet plan promises to be a lifetime approach to weight loss,
not a temporary solution.
Dr. Atkins and supporters say that this diet makes weight
loss simple and easy. In the first few phases, the program promises fast and
dramatic fat loss without deprivation.
Low-carbohydrate diets are proven to be effective for short-term
weight loss. These diet plans call for a reduction in snack foods,
sweets, and alcohol, which are often high in simple carbs and calories that
lead to weight gain. In the past, the Atkins diet was popular for allowing its
followers to consume large amounts of fat and still lose weight. However, large
amounts of dietary fat can increase your risk for heart disease, high blood
pressure, and stroke. Because of this, some proponents of the Atkins diet have
since revised their recommendations and now promote lean, or low-fat, protein
and a wider variety of high-fiber fruits and vegetables.
While promoting a more balanced diet is a positive move, a
low-carbohydrate diet may be difficult to stick to long term. With many foods
deemed off limits, the diet plan can quickly get boring.
In some cases, the Atkins diet can also have unpleasant
side effects. These include:
- bad breath
For some, these side effects are tolerable during the
initial weight loss. They can become more troublesome as the diet continues and
your weight loss slows, especially if they affect your ability to consistently
According to a 2003 study from the New England Journal of
Medicine, Atkins dieters lost more weight in the first four months than
low-calorie dieters, but by the end of the first year weight change was similar
between the two groups. The Atkins followers did show better improvements in
some risk factors for coronary artery disease in the short term.
Recent research emerging from the American
Microbiome Institute, which is studying the bacterial flora in the
intestines, has found that a diet high in saturated fat negatively impacts gut
bacteria and may impact long-term metabolism. So far, most research has been
conducted in mouse models, but the data is convincing enough to warrant caution
when pursuing an Atkins or ketogenic-style diet.
Over the years, the Atkins diet has proven to be an
effective way to lose weight, especially in the short term. What concerns some
medical professionals is the lack of balance in this diet. That being said, the
Atkins diet’s updated emphasis on lean protein is a positive move. The updated
diet also encourages a wider variety of fruits, vegetables, and some whole
Cutting down on carbohydrates in the form of convenience
foods, fast foods, and sugars will certainly help you lose weight. However, all
phases of the Atkins diet are still too low in carbohydrates to be
healthy. The USDA
recommends that adults get 45 to 65 percent of their daily calories from carbohydrates.
Carbohydrates are part of a balanced diet. They are necessary for energy,
vitamins, minerals, and fiber.
Before starting any kind of diet plan, talk to your doctor
to see if it’s right for you. If you do decide to try the Atkins diet, opt for lean
proteins, such as chicken or fish, rather than the all-you-can-eat bunless
cheeseburger buffet. Make sure you reach your allowance of daily carbohydrates
by including fruits, vegetables, legumes, and starchy vegetables. Also, be aware
that abandoning any strict diet can lead to rapid weight gain. When it comes to
weight loss and overall health, its best to work on healthy eating habits that
are sustainable long term.