The Atkins Diet is also known as the Atkins Nutritional Approach. It was created by Dr. Robert Atkins, an American cardiologist.
What is the Atkins Diet
The thrust of the Atkins Nutritional Approach is to significantly reduce one’s carbohydrate (carbs) intake. The craze for low carbs comes mainly from the popularity of the Atkins’ books. The Atkins diet is a four-phase eating program, combined with vitamin and mineral supplements, as well as regular exercise.
Dr. Atkins said there are crucial unrecognized factors in our eating habits which make us fat. The main factor that causes us to put on weight is our consumption of refined carbs, especially sugar, high-fructose corn syrup, and flour.
The premise of the Atkins Diet is that if you cut back on carbs, the body’s usual fuel, you’re forced to burn your fat stores for energy and thereby lose weight. As with many other diets, the main idea is to stop eating foods made with refined flour and sugar, but even carb-dense whole-grain foods are on the don’t-eat list until you reach the maintenance phase.
When on the Atkins Diet, the dieter’s body’s metabolism switches from burning glucose as fuel to burning its own stored body fat – this switching is called ketosis. When our glucose levels are low our insulin levels are low. Ketosis kicks in when our insulin levels are low. In other words, when our glucose levels are low our bodies switch to using our own stores of fat as a source of energy.
Our insulin levels, because of our low glucose levels, are low just before we eat. As soon as we eat our glucose levels rise, which triggers our insulin levels to rise. Refined carbohydrates are full of glucose which enters our blood rapidly.
Other types of carbs, what we call “good carbs” do not have such a strong impact on blood glucose levels, compared to refined carbs. During ketosis, some of the fat (lipid) stores in fat cells are transferred to the blood (lipolysis).
According to Dr. Atkins’ New Diet Revolution, a diet which is low in carbs triggers a metabolic advantage – the body burns more calories than it would on other diets. During this metabolic advantage the body also gets rid of some unused calories.
The four phases to the Atkins Diet
• Phase 1: Induction
Calorie consumption from carbs limited to 20 grams each day. Carb sources are mainly from salad and vegetables which are low in starch.
• Phase 2: OWL (Ongoing Weight Loss)
Nutrient-dense and fiber rich foods are added as additional carb sources, at an increased rate of 25 grams during the first week of this phase, 30 grams during the second week, and 30 grams each subsequent week until your weight stops going down. At that point – when weight loss stops – take away 5 grams of carbs from your daily intake until you are starting to lose weight slowly.
• Phase 3: Pre-Maintenance
Increase your carb intake by 10 grams each week until your weight loss is very gradual.
• Phase 4: Lifetime Maintenance
Start adding a wider range of carb sources, while carefully monitoring your weight does not go up. Your sense of well-being must continue. If your weight starts to go up, ease back on two things – the amount of carbs you consume each day, and any of the new carbs you have been introducing. Dr. Atkins says that “this lifestyle is the foundation for a lifetime of better health”.
The four principles of the Atkins Diet
According to Dr. Atkins, the Atkins Diet has four principles which form the core of the Atkins Nutritional Approach. They are:
• You Will Lose Weight
• You Will Maintain Your Weight Loss
• You Will Achieve Good Health
• You Will Lay The Permanent Groundwork For Disease Prevention
How effective is the Atkins Diet
If you stick to it, it is effective. You will lose weight and keep it off. The problem is sticking to it – compliance. During the early part of this decade approximately 10% of adults in the USA were on some kind of Atkins low carb diet. However, obesity and overweight continued to rise rampantly during this time.
The low-carb craze made virtually no dent at all in the fight against obesity – not nationally, anyway. The problem was not that low carbs or good carbs do not work – they do. The problem was, and still is, that people drop out of the diet, as they do with most other diets.
Study after study found that after two or three years, the vast majority of people who started well on Atkins did not continue long-term. In the medium-term the Atkins Diet tends to fare better than most other diets.
Researchers at Stanford University carried out a study and found that people following the Atkins diet had best blood pressure levels, better cholesterol levels and lost the most weight, compared to people on other diets.
The Atkins Diet: Pros
• The diet is easy to stick to. For people who have a weight problem, every meal is a battle, a tremendous psychological burden. A carbohydrate-restricted diet eliminates the battle.
• Protein is the stable part of the diet — that is going to give you some control over the fight with food.
• Small portions are good, but on a low-carbohydrate diet, if you are still hungry, you can eat another small portion.
People feel it’s easy to follow. You focus on a few food groups, there’s simplicity in that you don’t have to measure foods, and you’re not feeling deprived.
• Glycemic control counts. Reducing carbohydrates has a health benefit, whether or not you lose weight.
Biochemistry studies show that restricting carbohydrates helps regulate insulin and ease metabolic syndrome, pre-diabetes, and diabetes.
The Atkins Diet: Cons
• You’re not getting a well-balanced diet. With any diet that eliminates a whole food group, you’re not going to get all your nutrients.
Omitting all these food groups — vegetables, grains, fruit — even if you make up nutrients with a vitamin and mineral supplement, you’re not getting enough fiber. There are also many phytochemicals, which are compounds found naturally in fruits and veggies that provide strong antioxidant effects (and that might not be found in a general multivitamin and mineral supplement), along with fiber, calcium, and vitamin D, that would not be gotten by eating this way.
• It can make you dehydrated. Carbs hold onto water in your body, so when you don’t eat carbs, you lose a lot of water weight. This can raise your uric acid level and cause a gout attack, increase calcium loss through urine, and overwork your kidneys and liver. You’ll need to be sure to drink extra water.