What is the Atkins Diet?
Devised by Dr Robert Atkins in California it’s a high protein, low carbohydrate diet. The theory is that by cutting out carbs, your body has to burn its own fat stores to provide energy. More calories are used burning fat compared to burning carbohydrate so you should lose weight more quickly by cutting out the carbs. The added promise is that by eating extra protein you’ll be full and unlikely to overeat too.
Basic Atkins Food Guide
The diet has four phases. The Induction phase severely restricts carbs to just 20g (4 teaspoons) per day (most of us eat about 250g per day). No biscuits, cakes and fizzy drinks as you’d expect, but also no bread, rice, pasta, cereals, potatoes milk and most fruits and vegetables. You can eat unlimited amounts of red meat, eggs, cheese, mayonnaise, cream and butter.
During the ongoing weight loss phase you gradually increase your carb intake in 5g intervals to around 50g per day. Still very low compared to healthy eating guidelines and only limited amounts of fruit and vegetables are allowed. The pre maintenance and lifetime maintenance phases are designed to help you find the amount of carbs your body needs to maintain weight, for most people this is around 90g per day- a third of what most people would eat.
Why is the Atkins diet so famous?
One of the most controversial diet’s ever, Atkins turned the diet world on its head and sold more copies than Harry Potter and the Bible along the way. The diet was headline news with advocates and critics in heated debate over is credibility and safety. A-list celebs swore by it as the secret of their bird like figures and in turn businessmen, housewives, teachers and even GPs began to follow the plan. In 2003, at the peak of the hype it was estimated that three million Brits had tried the Atkins diet.
Who is the Atkins Diet good for?
You can lose a lot of weight quickly which can be very motivating and could make it a short term, kick start option. It also encourages reduced alcohol and processed carb intake which is no bad thing (to find out more about the risk of drinking too much go to http://www.drinkaware.co.uk/ ).The high protein aspect with plenty of red meat appeals to some men who might not otherwise consider following a traditional low fat weight loss diet.
Is the Atkins Diet safe?
The nature of the Atkins diet means it’s high in saturated fat and may increase your risk of raised cholesterol levels and heart disease, indeed Dr Atkins himself died of a heart attack in 2003. There are also concerns about low intakes of some nutrients like fibre, important for bowel health, and antioxidant vitamins and minerals. Some experts also suggest that such high intakes of protein may cause kidney problems and could lead to weakened bones.
Are there any side effects?
There are a range of possible short term side effects when following the diet. Your body enters a state called ketosis when it burns fat. You produce substances called ketones which can cause bad breath, fatigue, weakness, dizziness, nausea and insomnia. By avoiding high fibre foods like cereals, breads and fruit and vegetables you could become constipated.
What are the risks?
The diet can get very boring because so many foods are off limits so it can be hard to stick to. It’s not a diet for vegetarians either as almost all sources of vegetarian protein are banned. Perhaps the biggest risk though is that it loses sight of the basic principles of a healthy, balanced diet which really can help stay us healthy (for more information on healthy eating go to http://www.eatwell.gov.uk/healthydiet/ ).
It’s not all bad news though, however simplistic the theory behind it, the phenomenon of the Atkins era forced us to investigate carbohydrates and their digestion more thoroughly and thanks to it, we now know more about carbohydrate management than ever before.
© Nigel Denby 2010