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Spotlight On: The Atkins Diet

The father of all low-carb diets, The Atkins Diet is about drastically limiting carbs to speed up weight loss; and it really does work. Is it right for you?

Amontillado from fi [GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Concept: The Atkins diet is the low-carb plan that started the alternative diet craze. It has spawned many imitators including the South Beach diet and the Zone diet. If you rein in your carb intake, your body turns to fat for fuel and you shed weight. Instead of counting calories, you tally net carbs. Robert Atkins, MD, wrote the original Atkins diet book in 1972, and it has been modified over the years. Newer iterations of the Atkins diet include The “Eco-Atkins” diet, a low-carb plan fit for a vegetarian or vegan diet, and the Atkins 40 for people who need to lose 40 pounds or less.

The Atkins diet has four phases:

The Induction phase limits calorie consumption to 20 grams of carbs per day. In Phase 2 or Ongoing Weight Loss (OWL), fiber-rich foods are gradually increased until weight loss ceases. During Phase 3 (the “Pre-maintenance” phase), carb intake rises by 10 grams each week until weight loss becomes gradual. Phase 4 (or Lifetime Maintenance) is when you can start adding a wider range of carbs back into your diet.

The Promise: Nothing short of dramatic weight loss — up to five pounds in the first week, then one to two pounds each week thereafter.

The Perils: Ketosis is considered the ultimate fat-burning state, but it has some downsides. During ketosis, the body forms ketones (small carbon fragments or fuel from the breakdown of fat stores). Ketones and ketosis can dull appetite and cause nausea and bad breath.

There is concern that eating too much high-fat food (think red meat and bacon) can increase heart attack risk factors. If you have kidney disease, too much protein can further tax your kidneys; and compromise kidney function.

Yes Foods: Depends on the phase. In the induction stage, you can eat protein and fat from poultry, fish, eggs, red meat, butter and vegetable oils.

No Foods: Pasta, bread, grains, fruit, starchy vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes, caffeine, alcohol, and dairy other than butter, cheese and cream. When you slowly add more nutrient-dense carbs back, vegetables, seeds, nuts, legumes, berries and other fruit, wine and other low-carb alcohols are permitted.

Sample Meal: Atkins-style Breakfast

Scrambled eggs with sautéed onions and cheddar cheese; coffee, tea, water, diet soda and herbal tea. Seconds and even thirds are OK!

Should you or shouldn’t you? Check with your doctor first, especially if you have kidney disease or risk factors for heart disease. Better safe than sorry. Low-carb diets do have a role after weight loss surgery, particularly because both emphasize protein. Portion sizes are more important in this group, as overeating can cause adverse effects.

Further Reading:
How Does Atkins Work?
Free Weight Loss Tools