Atkins Diet

The Atkins Diet, or the Atkins Nutritional Approach, is considered the first modern low-carbohydrate (carb) diet. The diet, created by Dr. Robert Atkins, the “Father of the Low Carb Craze”, differs significantly from the then prevailing low-fat, low-calories plans.

The diet started enjoying great popularity as early as 1972 when Dr. Atkins published the book Dr. Atkins' Diet Revolution. Later, in the Dr. Atkins' New Diet Revolution book, he made revisions such as including exercise as part of a healthy lifestyle while remaining faithful to his original concepts.

The Atkins Diet is based on its creator’s belief that obesity is the result of the Western eating habit to consume large amounts of carbohydrates such as sugar and flour. According to his theory, when people eat plenty of carbs, their bodies burn only some of them while the rest is stored as fat. Lower carb intake drives the body into burning more fat more efficiently as it becomes its primary energy source. When the body begins to use its own fat as fuel, it goes into a state called ketosis, making one feel less hungry.

In the book Atkins Diabetes Revolution, Atkins also ascertains that his diet can be used as a tool to reduce the risk factors for diabetes and to eliminate the need of drugs for people with Type 2 diabetes. The Atkins Blood Sugar Control Program is based on the theory that when the body tries to deal with the excess sugar in the bloodstream, after the consumption of large amounts of carbs, it makes insulin so that it could store the extra sugar in the liver. High insulin amounts could make the body less responsive to it, leading to diabetes. The insulin also changes the extra sugar into fat – a main cause for obesity.

The Atkins diet recommends no more than 40 grams of carbs per day, plus vitamin supplements to prevent their deficiency, which is due to the reduced consumption of vegetables and fruits.

The plan includes four phases: induction, ongoing weight loss, pre-maintenance and lifetime maintenance.
The Induction phase usually takes two weeks and is the most restrictive. Carbs are limited to 20 net grams per day or less, to include 12 to 15 net grams of 54 allowed vegetables. During this phase, dieters can eat liberal amounts of lean protein such as chicken, fish, lean beef, and eggs. Fruit, nuts, and alcohol are not allowed while caffeine can be consumed in moderation. It is recommended to drink plenty of water (8 glasses).

During the Ongoing Weight Loss (OWL) phase, the carb consumption increases each week by 5 net grams and lasts until weight is within 4-5 kg of the individual weight goal. Fresh cheese, nuts and seeds, fruit, starchy vegetables, whole grains, and alcohol are introduced gradually.

In the Pre-maintenance phase, carb intake is increased by 10 net carbs weekly, covering the above food groups, while the Lifetime maintenance phase has the goal of making the newly acquired eating habits a lifetime practice. The last phase offers the option to drop back to an earlier one in case the dieter starts gaining weight.

The Atkins plan owes its huge popularity to the promise of an overall better health, together with weight loss, without ever feeling hungry and eating foods many other dieters only dream about. However, in response to the widespread misconception that the diet promotes eating unlimited amounts of fatty meats and cheeses, Dr. Atkins explicitly points out that the plan is "not a license to gorge."

To these days, the Atkins diet is surrounded by controversy and its benefits remain unproven. Most concerns come from the low intake of fruits and vegetables and possible risks of heart and kidney diseases.

Research, conducted in the 1990s and early 2000s, is also controversial and ranges from accolades trough doubt to full rejection. For example, some studies found that eating low-carb foods leads to the same or slightly lower risk of coronary heart disease, compared to high-carb, low-fat diets, as well as possible benefits for people with diabetes, cancer, and epilepsy. Others, however, reveal potentially harmful metabolic and emotional side-effects.

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