[Article updated on 19/09/2023]
The Atkins diet, after having been acclaimed and criticized in the United States, recently landed in Europe and France, where it caused a sensation. It is essentially a low-carb diet. It aims to satisfy energy needs mainly via fats and proteins. The Atkins diet, for example, suggests starting the day with fried eggs and bacon, eating a piece of cheese mid-morning and a good steak with vegetables for lunch.
Before reading on
I’m not an expert in this field, but I am passionate about nutrition and health.
The articles you’ll find on my site are the result of in-depth research that I’d like to share with you. However, I would like to stress that I am not a health professional and that my advice should in no way replace that of a qualified physician. I’m here to guide you, but it’s important that you consult a professional for specific questions or medical concerns. Your well-being is important. So be sure to consult the appropriate experts and take the best possible care of yourself.
What is the Atkins diet?
American cardiologist Robert C. Atkins designed the diet of the same name in the 1970s to prevent and control diabetes mellitus. Recently, driven by a massive promotional campaign, the Atkins diet has gained importance thanks to its real effectiveness in promoting weight loss.
Revolutionizing the medical and nutritional scenario of the time, where the cause of all ills was fat, Dr. Atkins deserves absolute credit for recognizing the deleterious effects of high-carbohydrate diets on the metabolic state. In just a few years, his book became a bestseller and his diet became a real program for those who wanted to lose weight.
Atkins completely overturns the principles of the Mediterranean diet and is based on the role of insulin. By eliminating carbohydrates, this protein diet allows weight loss because it affects lipid reserves.
How does the Atkins diet work?
Known as the protein diet, this diet favors the intake of proteins, in addition to fats, while severely limiting the consumption of carbohydrates. Foods of animal origin, such as meat (including bacon and sausages), eggs, milk and dairy products become the protagonists of the menu.
It is also a radical type ketogenic diet, because it suggests a consumption of at least 60% fat and less than 25% carbohydrates in meals. In the traditional food pyramid, these nutrients should make up 30% and 60% of everything we eat, respectively. This predominance of fats over carbohydrates causes metabolic changes important for weight loss.
In the absence of glucose (the body’s primary fuel and formed from carbohydrates), the body turns to fat for energy, a process called ketogenesis. The Atkins diet is considered a shock and is normally indicated for those who want to lose a lot of weight (more than 20 kg). The method also helps control blood levels of glucose, cholesterol and triglycerides.
Another point that contributes to weight loss by following this plan is the high satiety it provides by eating mainly proteins and fats. The tendency is to be less hungry.
The phases of the diet
The Atkins diet consists of four distinct phases.
The first period is called INDUCTION and must be followed for at least two weeks. During this first phase, the diet imposes a strong limitation on carbohydrate intake. The amount of carbohydrates ingested should not exceed 20 grams per day. (Note that in 100 grams of pasta there are approximately 75 grams of carbohydrates). Therefore, all foods rich in carbohydrates, both simple and complex (rice, pasta and cereals in general, sweets, snacks, potatoes, sweet drinks, jams, most fruits and even various vegetables) should be avoided . The new Atkins diet allows the consumption of fruits and vegetables.
On the other hand, you can eat steaks, fish, cheeses, eggs, vegetables with a low glycemic index and various condiments. Only hydrogenated fats present in margarines should be avoided. According to Atkins diet specialists, this first phase serves to accustom the body to burning fat more efficiently and to stabilize blood sugar levels.
Weight loss continuation phase
In this second phase, the Atkins diet provides for a slight increase in carbohydrate intake. In particular, the proportion of carbohydrates present in the diet should be increased by 5 grams per day, until “the critical level of carbohydrates necessary for weight loss” is reached.
To understand when to stop increasing carbohydrate intake, it’s important to keep the balance needle in check. When weight loss stops, the Atkins diet recommends going back, decreasing your carbohydrate intake by 5 grams per day, until you achieve moderate weight loss (between 400 and 1400 grams per week). This rate varies from person to person and is in any case much lower than what we are used to taking with the traditional Mediterranean diet (around 250 grams of carbohydrates per day).
Small increases in carbohydrates should be met by slightly increasing intakes of vegetables, unsweetened fruits, and dried fruits. Even in this second phase, the Atkins diet absolutely prohibits pasta, bread, cereals, sweets and other derivatives.
When you are close to reaching your ideal or desired weight, you enter the third phase. Meanwhile, the Atkins diet recommends increasing your carbohydrate intake by 10 grams per week. The goal of this third phase is to reduce weight loss to no more than 500 grams per week. To do this, it prepares the body for the fourth phase which is that of maintenance.
At this point, the subject has now learned about their own body. And thanks to the previous experimentation phase, he is aware of the amount of carbohydrates necessary to maintain his body weight within a certain range of normality. Even in this phase, the majority of people are forced to limit their carbohydrate intake to between 60 and 90 grams per day. This constraint makes the Atkins diet difficult to reconcile with normal Mediterranean eating habits.
What to eat during the Atkins diet?
You can eat all kinds of meat, even red meat. Fish, shellfish, eggs, as well as green leafy vegetables, such as spinach, lettuce, broccoli or chard can also be included in your diet. You can also eat nuts and, as we mentioned before, olive oil. It is also important to increase your water intake to 8 glasses per day. This diet also allows coffee and green tea, but all alcoholic beverages are prohibited.
This diet is based on carbohydrate restriction. So there are many foods that have no place, at least in its most restrictive phase. You can’t eat cereal. So bread, as well as rice, wheat or rye flours are left aside. Also limit the consumption of fruits, especially those that are rich in carbohydrates, such as bananas, apples or oranges.
Legumes cannot be eaten for the same reason. During this diet you will not be able to eat lentils, chickpeas, beans or peas. There is also no room for starchy foods, like potatoes. It does not authorize the consumption of vegetable oils, except olive oil, and it prohibits sweets and sugary products.
Advantages: the advantages of the Atkins diet
Drastic reduction in carbohydrate intake can lead to ketosis. This is the metabolic state where fat stores are used as the main source of energy instead of carbohydrates. But be careful not to prolong a state of ketosis for too long as it could lead to quite serious health problems.
Improved insulin sensitivity
Insulin is a hormone that promotes fat storage. When we eat carbohydrates, they are broken down and converted into simple sugars (mainly glucose) in the digestive tract. These sugars then pass into the blood and raise blood sugar levels. Since high blood sugar is harmful, the body responds with insulin which tells cells to store or burn glucose. In people with insulin resistance, this system does not work. These people’s bodies have more difficulty transporting glucose from the bloodstream to the cells. This missing mechanism can lead to type 2 diabetes.
Increased fat burning
Excess abdominal fat can be a source of insulin resistance. It is the main cause of metabolic diseases found mainly in Western countries. Low-carb diets like the Atkins diet have effects powerful fat burners, very effective in eliminating this harmful abdominal fat.
Decreased triglyceride levels
Triglycerides are lipids present in the blood. High triglycerides are a contributing factor to cardiovascular disease. The low-carb diet appears to be very effective in lowering blood triglyceride levels. This is the opposite of low-fat diets which could paradoxically increase triglyceride levels.
Diets often have the unfortunate effect of generating urgent cravings. These cravings are often misleading and are one of the main reasons you end up giving up on your diet. High in protein and fat, the Atkins diet provides increased satiety which is automatically followed by a reduction in appetite. You will have understood that proteins and fats act as powerful appetite suppressants.
Dangers: the disadvantages of the Atkins diet
Carbohydrates are essential to the body. The latter needs at least 120 grams of glucose every day to ensure the proper functioning of the central nervous system. By following the canons of the Atkins diet, the body’s carbohydrate reserves are depleted after a few days. By primarily burning fat, our body is forced to produce ketone bodies, given the brain’s inability to use fat for energy.
These substances (see ketogenic diet) lower blood pH and are responsible for symptoms such as nausea, headaches, fatigue and, in extreme cases, coma. Other possible side effects attributable to the Atkins diet include constipation, osteoporosis, insomnia, high cholesterol, colon cancer and cardiovascular disease.
Effectiveness of the Atkins diet
The Atkins diet is, without a doubt, very effective for weight loss. The weight loss recorded is even spectacular in some people. Kim Kardashian, this icon of female beauty, adopted the Atkins diet and the results remain commendable in the long term.
Duration of the Atkins Diet
The first phase of this diet lasts at least 2 weeks. The second may be longer. It begins after your blood sugar level has dropped and stabilized. The third phase begins when the desired weight is about to be achieved. Its duration varies from one person to another. Once the ideal weight is reached, you enter the maintenance phase. The latter has an unlimited duration.
Typical days, special menus and recipes for the Atkins diet
|Phase 1: induction
|Sugar-free coffee + 2 fried eggs with parmesan
|2 scrambled eggs with cream cheese and bacon
|1 slice of wholemeal bread with cheese + sugar-free coffee
|1 slice of wholemeal bread with cheese and egg + coffee
|1 small bowl of blueberries and raspberries
|1 slice of watermelon + 5 cashew nuts
|2 slices of melon
|Green salad with olive oil + 150 g of grilled meat or chicken
|Zucchini and ground beef pasta + salad with olives and oil
|roast chicken + 3 tablespoons of pumpkin puree + green salad with olive oil
|2 tablespoons of rice soup + 2 tablespoons of beans + grilled fish and salad
|1/2 avocado with a drizzle of sour cream
|6 strawberries with sour cream
|2 scrambled eggs with tomato and oregano + coffee
|1 natural yogurt + 5 cashew nuts
|150 g chicken breast + 200 g chard + 2 tablespoons of virgin olive oil
|Roasted chicken leg and drumstick (or sirloin steak or grilled salmon or shrimp) + vegetable salad seasoned with olive oil + bean soup
|150 g halibut + 200 g chicory + 2 tablespoons olive oil
|Baked sea bream + vegetables
What do experts think about the Atkins diet?
While many in the nutrition and health field accept the Atkins diet, some still fear it is too restrictive to continue. Additionally, high saturated fat intake remains a concern. Detractors do not hesitate to call it a “passport to heart attack” arguing that Dr. Atkins died of a heart attack.
If you choose to try the Atkins diet, speak with your health care provider and discuss how your carbohydrate and fat intake might change. Based on your medical history and current condition, your doctor can make personalized suggestions about whether the program is likely to be healthy for you and tell you what changes you could make to make the diet more manageable.
The vast majority of users of the Atkins diet say good things about it. Hence the fame of the said method. Due to its undeniable benefits, the Atkins diet has been adopted by many Hollywood stars including Jennifer Aniston and Renee Zellweger. According to fans of the Atkins diet, you have to adapt well to it to succeed. For them, the argument of the yoyo effect put forward by the detractors is irrelevant since the maintenance phase lasts as long as desired.