A big, juicy burger without bread. Eggs and bacon for breakfast, but save the fruit. These are examples of meals you can eat on the Atkins low-carb, high-fat diet.
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The Atkins diet has some advantages and may be easier to follow than other diets. But that doesn’t mean you should stock up on steak and butter every night. Registered Dietitian Maxine Smith, RD, LD, explains the benefits and risks of this diet.
What is the Atkins diet?
Cardiologist Robert Atkins created the Atkins diet in the 1960s. He believed that carbohydrates, not fat, were responsible for health problems and weight gain. As a result, his diet focused on consuming a lot of fat, protein, and very few carbohydrates.
“The goal of the Atkins diet is to change your metabolism. You burn stored body fat, rather than carbohydrates, for energy, ”says Smith. “And you can do it if you follow the diet closely. But it’s not for everyone, and there may be health risks. “
How it works?
The Atkins diet does not limit the amount of fat you can eat. And you won’t have to count calories or measure portion sizes.
But you will have to count the carbs. Carefully. The Atkins diet severely restricts carbohydrates, especially in the early stages. It uses a tracking method called net carbs, which is the total carb count minus its fiber content in grams.
“Normally, your body uses carbohydrates for fuel,” says Smith. “When you don’t eat carbohydrates, your body turns into stored body fat, which the liver breaks down. This process creates ketones, which the body can then use for energy.
Phases of the Atkins diet
There are four phases of the Atkins diet, starting with the most restrictive and gradually getting easier. “Starting in phase 1 promotes greater weight loss,” says Smith. “You can start the diet later, but you won’t lose as much weight.”
- Phase 1: You eat 20 grams of net carbs per day. For reference, the average banana has 24 net carbs and a potato has 31. The goal of phase 1 is to produce rapid weight loss.
- Phase 2: This phase allows for up to 30 net carbs. You are still losing weight, but not as quickly as in phase 1.
- Step 3: You can increase your net carbs up to 10 grams per week. Continue this phase until you reach your target weight.
- Step 4: This is a maintenance phase, where you can eat up to 120 net carbs per day as long as you stay at your target weight.
Other Atkins plans allow 40 or 100 net carbs upfront. They are designed for people who have less weight to lose or want to maintain their current weight.
Benefits of the Atkins diet
The Atkins diet has been around for decades and has some benefits. This diet works for some people because it:
- Won’t make you hungry: “Protein and fat suppress appetite, which is a benefit for people who are hungry on other diets,” says Smith.
- Cut calories: If you limit your carbs, you are also removing many unhealthy foods that are common in the American diet. Think of white bread, fried foods and sugar. “Most American diets contain 55% or more carbohydrates,” says Smith. “If you cut out all of those carbohydrates, you’ll probably eat fewer calories overall and lose weight.”
- Controls blood sugar: Eating very few carbohydrates can help control blood sugar, especially in people with diabetes.
The risks of the Atkins diet
While Atkins can help people lose weight, it does have some drawbacks. The system of government:
- Allows processed meats: Who doesn’t love bacon? Well, the American Heart Association, the American Cancer Society, and the World Health Organization, to begin with. Processed meats can increase the risk of heart problems and some cancers. But because they are low in carbohydrates and high in fat, many people who follow Atkins eat a lot of them.
- Excludes healthy foods: Many people limit fruits and certain vegetables to stay below their carbohydrate limit. These foods contain vitamins, minerals, disease-fighting phytochemicals, and important fiber. “Eliminating food groups can lead to nutrient deficiencies and health problems,” says Smith.
- Has side effects: Eating a very low-carb diet like Atkins can cause electrolyte imbalances, constipation, dangerously low blood sugar, and kidney problems.
- Promotes processed foods: The Atkins Diet sells and promotes bars, shakes, and ready meals that help people stick to the plan. But many of these products contain artificial sweeteners, processed ingredients, saturated fat, and sodium that won’t do your health any good. “A long list of ingredients is not a good sign,” says Smith.
- Has questionable long-term benefits: “We have no evidence that this diet is good for you in the long run,” says Smith. “All of the studies have looked at how this affects your health for less than a year or two.”
Focus on healthy foods
If you decide to follow the Atkins diet, take a whole food approach:
- Limit or avoid processed meats and other processed foods.
- Eat healthy fats, such as those found in fish, nuts, and olive oil.
- Include healthy carbohydrates, like fresh fruits and whole grains, as part of a long-term healthy diet.
If you have diabetes or any health problems, talk to your doctor before starting a weight loss program. Do not try Atkins if you are pregnant, breastfeeding, or have kidney disease.