What Is the Atkins Diet, and Is It Healthy?
The Atkins diet promotes a high-fat, low-carb plan to help people lose weight and improve their health. Before you try it, learn the pros and cons.
A big, juicy hamburger with no bun. Eggs and bacon for breakfast — but hold the fruit. These are examples of meals you can eat on the low-carb, high-fat Atkins diet.
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The Atkins diet has some benefits and can be easier to follow than other diets. But that doesn’t mean you should load up on steaks and butter every night. Registered dietitian Maxine Smith, RD, LD, explains the benefits and risks of this diet plan.
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 eating plenty of fat, some protein and very few carbs.
“The goal of the Atkins diet is to change your metabolism. You burn stored body fat, rather than carbs, for energy,” says Smith. “And you can do this if you follow the diet closely. But it’s not for everyone, and there may be health risks involved.”
The Atkins diet doesn’t 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 carbs. Carefully. The Atkins diet severely restricts carbs, especially in the early stages. It uses a tracking method called net carbs, which is the total number of carbs minus its fiber content in grams.
“Normally, your body uses carbohydrates as fuel,” explains Smith. “When you don’t eat carbohydrates, your body turns to stored body fat, which the liver breaks down. This process creates ketones, which the body can then use for energy.”
There are four phases of the Atkins diet, starting with the most restrictive and gradually getting easier. “Beginning at phase 1 promotes more weight loss,” Smith explains. “You can start the diet at a later stage, but you won’t lose as much weight.”
Other Atkins plans allow 40 or 100 net carbs from the start. They are designed for people who have less weight to lose or want to maintain their current weight.
The Atkins diet has been around for decades, and it has some benefits. This diet works for some people because it:
Although Atkins can help people lose weight, it has some drawbacks. The diet:
If you decide to follow the Atkins diet, take a whole foods approach:
If you have diabetes or any health conditions, talk to your doctor before starting a weight loss plan. Don’t try Atkins if you’re pregnant, breastfeeding or have kidney disease.