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. Each phase adds products to the list of acceptable foods. During the Induction phase, which lasts two weeks, the body starts burning fat instead of carbohydrates. The body uses fat for energy. This phase may last longer for overweight people who have a lot of weight to lose. Most consumers lose between 5 and 10 pounds (2.3 – 4.5 kg). Some lose more weight (15 pounds or 7 kg). This depends on factors such as initial weight, lifestyle, menu, duration of the initial phase, and others. During this and subsequent phases, dieters count net carbs on a daily basis. This means that they are allowed to consume more foods that are high in fiber because they are low on net carbs and enjoy larger servings. 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. Atkins introduces the Carbohydrate Ladder that shows which foods to be added first. Products are ordered by their glycemic index value (from the lowest to the highest). The main goal during this phase is to find your Critical Carbohydrate Level for Losing. People lose weight in a steady way and at a safe rate. The menus and meals are based on your individual carb intake and level. The duration of the OWL phase also varies based on your progress and weight loss goals. Dieters consume legumes such as lentils, kidney beans, black-eyed beans, and fava beans and seeds and nuts such as walnuts, pecans, and cashews. Vegetables and dairies are also allowed, including cottage cheese, mozzarella, farmer’s cheese, and others.
In the Pre-maintenance phase
, carb intake is increased by 10 net carbs weekly, covering the above food groups. Also called the critical phase, people achieve carbohydrate equilibrium and steady weight loss. This is the stage during which dieters make a transition to weight maintenance. If you gain weight, this is a sign that you need to cut back on carbohydrates. The good news it is allowed to add more variety and expand on the list of acceptable foods. You can have vegetable protein as well as lean protein – fish, shellfish, beef, pork, lamb. Starchy vegetables such as sweet potatoes, carrots, and zucchini are allowed.
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. People are allowed to choose from a variety of food options, and the carbohydrate intake varies from 45 to 100 grams daily. If you exercise daily and have an active lifestyle, you can consume more carbohydrates. Try to avoid foods that contain simple carbohydrates, trans fats, and sugar. Alcohol is allowed but in moderation. The list of allowed foods is quite long at this stage and includes grains, fruits, legumes, and starchy vegetables such as yams, potatoes, carrots, and acorn squash. Grains are also allowed with some exceptions. You can have brown rice, whole wheat pasta, and oatmeal. Having fruits such as plums, mango, cherries, apples is allowed. The serving size varies from ¼ cup to 1 cup. The same goes for grains, starchy vegetables, and legumes.
Health Benefits of Atkins
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." The diet offers some health benefits such as better insulin control and reduced risk for health problems such as heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, metabolic syndrome, and other serious conditions. Some studies also show that dieters see an improvement in their triglyceride and blood sugar levels.
Does Atkins Work?
For many, this is an effective method for weight control because the body breaks down fat for energy. This occurs in a state known as ketosis. Metabolism changes so that the body burns fat instead of glucose. Regular exercise also contributes to weight loss.
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.