Nearly everyone has heard of the Atkins Diet by now, even if not necessarily clear on what it is. Some may even know it as the source of “low-carb” diet craze in the country, but don’t know much about it beyond that. Considered as controversial as it is revolutionary, the Atkins Diet has worked successfully for a tremendous number of people, and not so successfully for a good amount of others. This article aims to place a neutral and objective eye on this popular weight loss program.
Re-introduced in the 1990’s (after an initial period of popularity in the 1970’s), the Atkins Diet is the brainchild of Dr. Robert Atkins.
The diet works in several phases, the first – or the “induction period” – lasting only 2 weeks. In this phase, dieters are not to eat any more than 20 grams of carbohydrates of any form each day. The bulk of a person’s diet during this period, then, is fats and proteins. Usually, a dieter will reach their 20 gram limit on carbohydrates simply from the small amounts in foods like salad dressing, cheese, sauces, condiments, and vegetables.
Forbidden from a participant’s diet during this 2 week induction period are fruits, grains, breads, cereal, milk, and vegetables with a high-glycemic index (a measure of the effect a food has on the body’s blood sugar).
During this period, the body enters a state called “ketosis”, where it begins burning its own residual deposits of fat in order to produce the energy for which it previously had been relying on your regular consumption of carbohydrates.
Atkins also asserts that the source of most weight problems people experience is an “insulin-resistance” that causes overweight bodies to have difficulty converting carbohydrates into glucose (or sugar) which becomes energy. In this state of ketosis induced by the induction phase of the Atkins Diet, the insulin function of the body is affected in such a way that impedes the production of more fat.
After the two week induction period ends, dieters are then permitted to increase their carbohydrate allowance by 5 grams each week. In other words: they’re allowed 25 grams of carbs per day throughout week 3, 30 grams of carbs per day throughout week 4, 35 g in week 5, etc.
Depending on the person’s body type and weight objectives, this gradual increase in carbs should level off somewhere between 40 g and 90 g per day. At this point, the dieter is considered to have entered the “maintenance” phase of the diet, where they ought to remain for the rest of their lives. Although counting calories is not a part of the Atkins Diet, studies by the North American Association for the Study of Obesity found that adhering to the restrictions imposed by the Atkins Diet led to a decrease of 1,000 calories from participant’s daily caloric intake.
A quick perusal of the recommendations published by most traditional health experts and health organizations will reveal that 40-90 grams of carbs per day is still a miniscule amount compared to that of what they consider a “standard” healthy diet.
The Atkins Diet also contradicts authorities (US FDA and the American Cancer Society included) that extol the virtues of eating fruits, vegetables, and whole grain breads and cereals. According to Atkins, even “healthy” carbohydrates are harmful in large quantities.
Studies by the Annals of Internal Medicine and the New England Journal of Medicine have actually found that participants on the Atkins Diet experienced an improvement in heart disease indicators.
Like the 80’s and 90’s were to “low-fat” and “fat-free”, Dr. Atkins has helped make the early 21st century “low-carb”. Whether that’s for better or worse is up to you.