The Atkins diet is a high-protein, high-fat, and very low-carbohydrate regimen. It emphasizes meat, cheese, and eggs, while discouraging foods such as bread, pasta, fruit, and sugar. It is a form of ketogenic diet.
The primary benefit of the diet is rapid and substantial weight loss. By restricting carbohydrate intake, the body will burn more fat stored in the body.
Since there are no limits on the amount of calories or quantities of foods allowed on the diet, there is little hunger between meals. According to Atkins, the diet can alleviate symptoms of conditions such as fatigue, irritability, headaches, depression, and some types of joint and muscle pain.
The regimen is a low-carbohydrate, or ketogenic diet, characterized by initial rapid weight loss, usually due to water loss. Drastically reducing the amount of carbohydrate intake causes liver and muscle glycogen loss, which has a strong but temporary diuretic effect. Long-term weight loss occurs because with a low amount of carbohydrate intake, the body burns stored fat for energy.
The four-step diet starts with a two-week induction program designed to rebalance an individual's metabolism. Unlimited amounts of fat and protein are allowed but carbohydrate intake is restricted to 20 grams per day. Foods allowed include butter, oil, meat, poultry, fish, eggs, cheese, and cream. The daily amount of carbohydrates allowed equals about three cups of salad vegetables, such as lettuce, cucumbers, and celery.
The second stage is for ongoing weight loss. It allows 20-40 grams of carbohydrates a day.When the individual is about 10 pounds from their desired weight, they begin the pre-maintenance phase. This gradually adds one to three servings a week of high carbohydrate foods, such as a piece of fruit or slice of whole-wheat bread. When the desired weight is reached, the maintenance stage begins. It allows 40-60 grams of carbohydrates per day.
Opinion from the general medical community remains mixed on the Atkins diet. There have been no significant long-term scientific studies on the diet. A number of leading medical and health organizations, including the American Medical Association, American Dietetic Association (ADA), and the American Heart Association oppose it. It is drastically different than the dietary intakes recommended by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and theNational Institutes ofHealth. Much of the opposition is because the diet is lacking in some vitamins and nutrients, and because it is high in fat. In a hearing before the U.S. Congress on February 24, 2000, an ADA representative called the Atkins diet "hazardous" and said it lacked scientific credibility.
No advance preparation is needed to go on the diet. However, as with most diets, it is generally considered appropriate to consult with a physician and to have a physical evaluation before starting such a nutritional regimen. The evaluation should include blood tests to determine levels of cholesterol, triglycerides, glucose, insulin, and uric acid. A glucose tolerance test is also recommended.
Adherence to the Atkins diet can result in vitamin and mineral deficiencies. In his books, Atkins recommends a wide-range of nutritional supplements, including a multi-vitamin. Among his recommendations, Atkins suggests the following daily dosages: 300-600 micrograms (mcg) of chromium picolinate, 100-400 milligrams (mg) of pantetheine, 200 mcg of selenium, and 450-675 mcg of biotin.
The diet is not recommended for lacto-ovo vegetarians, since it cannot be done as successfully without protein derived from animal products. Also, vegans cannot follow this diet, since a vegan diet is too high in carbohydrates, according to Atkins. Instead, he recommends vegetarians with a serious weight problem give up vegetarianism, or at least include fish in their diet.
According to Atkins, the diet causes no adverse side effects. Many health care professionals disagree. Ellen Coleman, a registered dietician and author, said the diet may have serious side effects for some people. She said complications associated with the diet include ketosis, dehydration, electrolyte loss, calcium depletion, weakness, nausea, and kidney problems. "It is certainly riskier for overweight individuals with medical problems such as heart disease, hypertension, kidney disease, and diabetes than it is for overweight people with no health problems," she said.
People with diabetes taking insulin are at risk of becoming hypoglycemic if they do not eat appropriate carbohydrates. Also, persons who exercise regularly may experience low energy levels and muscle fatigue from low carbohydrate intake.