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The Atkins Diet Reviewed E-mail
Written by Jeff Behar, MS, MBA   

Dr.Robert Atkins created a diet that changed the way millions of Americans ate, as well as how millions more thought about food. Often the diet is misquoted. Learn more about this diet from the nutrition and health experts at Muscle mag Fitness.

About Dr. Atkins

Dr.Robert Atkins addressed his own weight condition from a diet he read in the Journal of the American Medical Association.  Realizing the benefits of the diet he  followed Atkins later popularized the idea as The Atkins Diet in a series of books, starting with Dr. Atkins' Diet Revolution in 1972. The Atkins Diet or just 'Atkins' is a well known low carbohydrate diet.

How Atkins Diet Works

The Atkins Diet states we can change our metabolism and lose weight easily simply by eating foods high in protein and fat and limiting foods high in carbohydrate. Consuming a high level of carbohydrates causes overproduction of insulin, leading to increased hunger and weight gain. The diet encourages the consumption of foods rich in protein.

The Four Stages of the Atkins Diet

Induction

The Induction phase is the first, and most restrictive, phase of the Atkins Nutritional Approach. It is intended to cause the body to quickly enter a state of ketosis. Carbohydrate intake is limited to 20 net grams per day.

Ongoing Weight Loss

 The Ongoing Weight Loss (OWL) phase of Atkins consists of an increase in carbohydrate intake, but remaining at levels where weight loss occurs. The target daily carbohydrate intake increases each week by 5 net grams.

Pre-Maintenance

Carbohydrate intake is increased again this time by 10 net carbs a week from the ladder groupings, and the key goal in this phase is to find the "Critical Carbohydrate Level for Maintenance", this is the maximum number of carbohydrates you can eat each day without gaining weight.

Lifetime Maintenance

This phase is intended to carry on the habits acquired in the previous phases, and avoid the common end-of-diet mindset that can return people to their previous habits and previous weight. Whole, unprocessed food choices are emphasized, with the option to drop back to an earlier phase if you begin to gain weight.

Each stage becomes progressively less restrictive and gradually increases carbohydrates allowed.


 

What Food is Allowed in Atkins Diet 

 

The allowed foods include a liberal amount of all meats, fish, shellfish, fowl, and eggs; up to 4 ounces (113 g) of soft or semi-soft cheese; salad vegetables; other low carbohydrate vegetables; and butter and vegetable oils.

 

Sample Menu Plan from the Atkins Diet

 

Breakfast:

Italian sausage frittata

Cup of Herbal Tea

Lunch

Tuna salad with mixed leafy greens topped with bacon bits

Dinner:

Bacon cheeseburger with broccoli and cauliflower

Fresh fruit kebobs

Snacks:

High-protein, low-sugar snack bar

 

What Food is Not Allowed in Atkins Diet

 

No bread, alcohol, or carbonated beverages, not even diet soda. Beverages are limited to water, and consumption of caffeine is not allowed. It May be difficult to eliminate breads and cereals, especially in families with children who love these types of foods. 

 

Misconceptions about the Atkins Diet

Many people incorrectly believe that the Atkins Diet promotes eating unlimited amounts of fatty meats and cheeses. This is a key point of clarification that Dr. Atkins addressed in the more recent revisions of his book. Although the Atkins Diet does not impose limits on certain foods, or caloric restriction in general, Dr. Atkins points out in his book that this plan is "not a license to gorge.

Another common misconception arises from confusion between the Induction Phase and rest of the diet. The first two weeks of the Atkins Diet are strict, with only 20g of carbohydrates permitted per day. Atkins states that a dieter can safely stay at the Induction Phase for several months if the person has a lot of weight to lose. Once the weight-loss goal is reached, carbohydrate levels are raised gradually, though still significantly below USDA norms, and still within or slightly above the definition of ketosis. 

 

Known Health Benefits of the Atkins Diet

There are over 50 studies that highlight the positive weight loss results and other health benefits associated with following the Atkins Diet. These benefits include weight loss, improvement in risk factors for heart disease, hypertension and diabetes, inflammation, benefits in treating epilepsy and decreasing obesity in children and adolescents.

Study out of University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, University of Colorado Health Sciences Center and Washington University School of Medicine randomly assigned participants to a low-carbohydrate, high-protein, high-fat diet or a low-calorie, high-carbohydrate, low-fat diet.  The low-carbohydrate diet produced a greater weight loss and was associated with a greater improvement in some risk factors for coronary heart disease.

Study out of Stanford University Medical School compared four weight-loss diets representing a spectrum of low to high carbohydrate intake for effects on weight loss and related metabolic variables. Participants assigned to follow the Atkins diet, which had the lowest carbohydrate intake, lost more than twice the weight and experienced favorable overall metabolic effects at 12 months than those assigned to follow the Zone, Ornish, or LEARN diets. 

 

Additional Suggested Health Benefits of the Atkins Diet

Many people like being able to eat as much protein and fat as they wish, because these foods are often restricted in more traditional diet plans.

For people who have tried a low-fat, high-carbohydrate weight loss plan without success, increasing protein in their diet often results in decreased food cravings and more rapid weight loss.

The diet is relatively easy to follow; there are no complicated meal plans.

Potential Risks of the Atkins Diet

Eating unlimited amounts of fat, especially saturated fat found in meat products, can lead to increased risk of heart disease. Extensive research on healthy populations tells us to eat more fruits,vegetables and whole grains. Restricting these foods in the name of weight loss may lead to long-term health problems.

Additionally any diet that limits carbohydrate causes the body to rely on fat or muscle for energy. When our body breaks down stored fat to supply energy, a byproduct called ketones is formed. Ketones suppress appetite, but they also cause fatigue, nausea, and a potentially dangerous fluid loss. Anyone with diabetes, heart, or kidney problems should check with their physician before following a low-carb diet.

Unpleasant side effects include constipation (caused by the low-fiber diet) and bad breath.

Impact of the Atkins Dieton Diet Culture

Since the Atkins Diet made headlines n the late '90s, there has been an explosion of low carbohydrate versions of traditionally high carbohydrate products, such as bread, pasta and even candy. Thiewed as the "grand daddy" and cause of the explosion of low carrb diets popularity in the nineties to early 2000..

What the Experts are Saying about the  Atkins Diet

Atkins Diet supporters claim it offers faster weight loss and a relatively user-friendly eating plan. Sceptics, including dietitians and nutritionists, maintain that Atkins Diet weight loss is both short-term and possibly a health risk, even though the weight loss itself may have the beneficial effect of lowering cholesterol.

Dr. Foster, one of the researchers involved in studying the Atkins Diet, acknowledged the possible health dangers of the Atkins diet and stated a longer five-year study was planned:

"This larger study of 360 participants will help us more fully assess the benefits and risks of low-carbohydrate diets on bone mass, kidney function, arterial function and exercise tolerance," he said. "I'm very, very concerned that people will get the message from these studies that the Atkins diet is safe and effective, but I don't believe we know that yet."

Brigid McKevith, a nutrition scientist at the British Nutrition Foundation (BNF), said:

"We welcome the fact that the Atkins diet is being studied scientifically and that randomised controlled studies have been carried out, because it's very popular with the public. [however] There are several potential problems with the Atkins diet. These include long term bone health, as with a very high protein intake the excretions of calcium increase, so there could be implications for the health of bones," she explained.

"There could be difficulties for people who have an underlying problem with their kidneys or liver, because it would be putting more strain on those organs, and problems in terms of heart disease too, as it's a diet very low in fruits and vegetables. Also, it's very low in fiber, so in terms of digestive health, it's not in keeping with our fibre and complex carbohydrate recommendations."

Belinda Linden, head of medical information at the British Heart Foundation, holds similar views.

"The new studies do not indicate a dramatic weight loss for excessively obese people," she said. "Previous studies have shown that weight loss from the Atkins Diet may involve muscle loss rather than body fat. Another potential problem is that it is so far unclear from studies whether weight loss is sustained over a longer period than six months. One of the studies shows no significant difference at 12 months." She added that: "With minimal fruit and vegetables included in the diet, it holds serious implications for coronary heart disease and cancer. Diets need to be varied to protect against these conditions - and this one isn't. This diet requires further long term and larger studies before its effectiveness can be confirmed."

Volumetrics author Barbara Rolls, PhD, who holds the Guthrie Chair in Nutrition at Penn State University, offers a very simple explanation as to why people lose weight on Atkins diet:

"They're cutting calories, even if they don't realize it. No one has shown, in any studies, that anything magical is going on with Atkins other than calorie restriction. The diet is very prescriptive, very restrictive, and limits half of the foods we normally eat. In the end it's not fat, it's not protein, it's not carbs - it's calories. You can lose weight on anything that helps you to eat less, but that doesn't mean it's good for you."

Neal Barnard, MD, president of the Physicians Commission for Responsible Medicine, a non-profit research group based in Washington, says:

"Low-carb diets have been linked to increased frequency of colon cancer, formation of kidney stones, kidney disease, and even osteoporosis... The reason for the health worries is in large part due to red meat. People who eat meat every day have three times greater risk of developing colon cancer. And then there is the problem of the kidneys. They aren't designed to work on an oil slick of fat."

Susan Barr, registered dietitian in New York City, says:
"There have been reports in the medical literature that say that this low-carb diet may not be as bad as we thought. That makes people interested again in this diet, but until there is more research on what stresses the diet places on the body, there is no way to know what it might be doing besides providing short-term weight loss."

The Bottom Line

The Atkins Diet is an optimally balanced lifetime eating plan with the flexibility to meet each individual’s unique physical condition addressing factors such as age, gender, level of physical activity, and metabolic rate.

This diet may seem like the tastiest way to lose weight, but don't be misled by claims of effortless weight loss and unlimited amounts of food. Nothing is that simple!

 
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