The Atkins diet was created in 1972 by cardiologist Robert Atkins.
This diet has become popular in the last few decades because of the misconception that you may eat tons of fat and meats and still get rid of excess pounds as long as you don’t eat a lot of carbs.
This diet was originally created for diabetes patients who wanted to manage their insulin levels more effectively. Before I get into my Atkins diet review, let’s do some “Atkins diet 101.”
Atkins Diet Review
The Atkins Diet cuts down carbs while suggesting more protein and fats. Proponents claim that dramatically restricting carbohydrates causes your body to go into “ketosis.”
Someone in ketosis supposedly gets most of their energy from ketones, small carbon fragments that are the fuel created by the breakdown of fat stores. This allegedly turns your body into a fat-burning machine.
Phases of the Atkins Diet
The Atkins Diet has four distinct phases:
Phase 1: Induction
In the initial induction phase, you cut out almost all carbs from your diet. You’re limited to just 20 grams of “net carbs” a day.
“Net” takes into account the fiber you’re getting from foods, so if a food has 10 grams of carbs and 5 grams of fiber, you only count 5 net grams (10 minus 5).
While most calorie recommendations say your percent of carbs per day should be in the 45 to 65 percent range (which I think is too high, by the way), in this phase of Atkins you’re only getting around 10 percent.
Your diet consists mainly of protein and fats. Vegetables are also a primary focus.
You can’t eat most fruits, sugary foods, breads, pastas, grains, nuts or alcohol. This phase lasts for a minimum of two weeks, depending on your weight loss goal.
Phase 2: Balancing
Ongoing weight loss. During the next phase, you start to add back in some nutrient-rich carbs, including berries, nuts, and seeds. Your diet still heavily revolves around eating protein and fats though. You stay in this phase until you’re 10 pounds away from your target weight loss goal.
Phase 3: Pre-Maintenance
In the third phase of Atkins, you continue to gradually increase the range of foods you eat. You add in more fruits, starchy vegetables and some whole grains.
Expect to remain in this phase for a minimum of one month after reaching your target weight loss goal.
Phase 4: Lifetime Maintenance
When you reach your goal weight and have maintained it for several weeks, you move into the “lifetime maintenance” phase. This is where you continue eating “Atkins for life.” Woo-hoo!
Doesn’t sound too complicated, right? Then why all the controversy about Atkins? Well, it starts with mixed research and safety results. Read on …
Atkins Diet Research
A small study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that a weight loss strategy that reduced glycemic load rather than dietary fat was best for weight-loss maintenance and cardiovascular disease prevention.
A meta-analysis of several studies published in the Journal of the American Medical Association that examined existing research on low carb diets found greater weight loss in the short term with lower carbohydrate diets compared to other diets.
However, the authors also concluded that because of a lack of studies with adequate follow-up it was not possible to make recommendations on the long-term safety and efficacy of low-carbohydrate diets.
A one-year study that compared the Atkins diet plan with a conventional low-fat diet found that people experienced significantly greater weight loss at the end of three months and six months with the Atkins diet.
But, those numbers leveled out and similar weight loss occurred at the end of one full year for participants in both groups.
Additionally, no published studies have addressed the long-term effects of low-carbohydrate diets.
The Atkins Diet Pros and Cons
Here are a few things I like about Atkins diet:
No refined sugar or white flour products allowed
I talk a lot about the dangers of these two products. They’re both detrimental to your health. Do yourself a favor and limit your sugar intake and how much white flour you eat.
If your health goals revolve around weight loss, Atkins may help.
Lots of books, websites, and support
The Atkins Diet has been around a while, and there’s plenty of tools and resources to help support you if you decide to try it.
And here is what concerns me:
Atkins Diet Side Effects
The Atkins Diet admits that harsh carbs reduction in the first phase of this diet plan can cause some side effects, such as: Headache, Dizziness, Weakness, Fatigue, and Constipation
Getting the right amount of nutrients
The lack of whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and nuts on Atkins may lead to deficiencies of key nutrients, including dietary fiber, vitamin C, folic acid, and several minerals.
Atkins diet isn’t for everyone
Atkins warns that people with severe kidney disease shouldn’t follow the diet. Atkins also isn’t recommended for women who are pregnant or breast feeding.
It’s not rated very high compared to other diets
The U.S. News and World Report ranks the “Best Diets” every year based on an independent panel of health experts. In 2021, The Atkins Diet was only ranked # 33 (out of 39).
Initial weight reduction is mostly water weight
Atkins diet has a diuretic effect and most of the initial weight reduction is because water loss, not fat reduction. Most people on the Atkins Diet (and all diets) gain back most or all of the weight a few months after initiating the diet.
Does Atkins Diet Work
Some research shows Atkins leads to more weight loss than other diets in the short-term. Much of this may be attributed to water weight.
The effects of limiting one type of nutrient (carbs) to this extreme are unknown.
Until then, I think that is better to eat the right types of carbs in smaller doses, but don’t eliminate them completely.