March 14, 2016
What is the Atkins Diet?
In 1972, cardiologist Roger C. Atkins, MD, published Dr. Atkins Diet Revolution, which was followed in later years by a series of newer versions and cookbooks. The latest updated version, Dr. Atkins’ New Diet Revolution includes the diet that people interested in this approach should follow. The Atkins diet was among the earliest of a series of diets which dramatically reduce carbohydrate intake, control calories, and also recommend some daily exercise—even moderate forms like walking—as an effective element for weight loss and control. Exercise is not required, but strongly recommended in the Atkins plan. The Atkins diet is still widely used because it is accessible and generally helps people to lose weight, relatively quickly, and if they stick to the recommendations, to keep excess weight off.
Four Phases of the Atkins Diet
The Atkins diet includes four phases beginning with the elimination of nearly all carbohydrates and anything that includes added sugar for approximately two weeks. The subsequent three phases gradually broaden the diet to include some carbohydrates at a rate of about 10 grams of carbohydrates per week in the later phases until a weight goal is reached. At that point a maintenance diet is recommend. The diet does include up to two snacks a day, which helps control some cravings. Those following the diet are expected to measure their carbohydrate and overall calorie intake, and to drink adequate amounts of water.
This diet allows for consumption of high levels of animal protein and fats, though there is a vegetarian version that includes plant protein sources—so it is not just a ‘high meat’ diet, which is an often-voiced criticism. Rapid initial weight loss is common, and is due both to calorie reduction and through ketosis, a state where the body burns fat, rather than carbohydrates and sugars. The temporary side effects of ketosis may include nausea, mental fatigue, headaches and bad breath. It is also a diet that should not be used by pregnant or breastfeeding women. People with heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure or high cholesterol levels, should talk with a healthcare professional before starting any diet, including this one.
Does the Atkins Diet work?
Short answer: yes, if you stick with it. Diets excessively high in fat can be a worry for people who are already fat. And while care should be taken not to go overboard with the consumption of things like bacon, full-fat ice cream, etc., healthy fats are an integral part of nutrients that we all require, and so eliminating them is not wise either.
Research using carefully controlled comparisons conducted with people who are already experiencing serious health problems associated with obesity, such as diabetes and metabolic syndrome risks, have been conducted on many low carbohydrate diets including the Atkins diet. Many direct, controlled comparisons between low-carbohydrate diets and low fat diets have been completed and they reveal that low carbohydrate diets nearly always show weight loss well beyond that experienced by participants who are just on low fat diets.
Diets that are low in carbohydrates and higher in protein and fat usually lead to feeling satiated, so people don’t eat as much or feel hungry quite so quickly between meals. Both of these kinds of diets lead to reduced caloric intake—and weight loss. But it happens faster, and may last longer for people who reduce carbohydrate intake than for those who strictly reduce fat intake yet take in roughly the same amount of calories.
A concise review  of the findings published in 23 peer review journals (which included studies of the Atkin’s diet among them) concluded that when low-carbohydrate and low fat diets are compared, people not only lose significantly more weight much faster on low carbohydrate diets, but that no adverse effects were reported for either form of diet. Blood pressure tends to drop in both types of diets. In research where people actually follow the low carbohydrate diet very closely to the end of the study, blood sugars can drop well below the level that require diabetics to use medication. Slightly more people were also found to adhere to low carbohydrate diets, probably because they reduce hunger due to adequate fat and protein intake. Where diets are unsatisfying, people often abandon the study because they lose motivation to continue. On that basis, low carbohydrate diets are superior, but faster weight loss can also be highly motivational on its own.
Overall, since low carbohydrate diets (including the Atkins diet) are effective and include no serious adverse effects, they have much to recommend them for most people, most of the time. Gunnars, Kris, https://authoritynutrition.com/23-studies-on-low-carb-and-low-fat-diets/ (July 2015)