There are so many diets today that the average person is often faced with great difficulty finding that one diet that will work for them. Since Dr. Robert C. Atkins published a book on a low-carb diet in 1972, what is now known as the “Atkins Diet” has become exceptionally popular, especially among people who want to lose excess weight and live a healthier life. The Atkins diet comprises of a meal plan that includes low amounts of carbohydrates. While lowering carb intake, you can freely consume protein and fats, as long as they are from healthy sources.
When following the Atkins diet, it is important that you understand what foods can be included in the diet, which foods you should limit, and which food options should be completely avoided if you wish to achieve effective results with the help of this particular diet.
In this post, we are going to take a look at what the Atkins diet really is and what it entails, the potential benefits that you may experience if you decide to follow the diet, and we will consider possible risk factors that need to be considered. We will also discuss appropriate foods to include when following the Atkins diet and we will share a couple of recipe ideas to help you get started.
What Is The Atkins Diet?
The Atkins diet was introduced initially as a way of helping people lose weight more effectively. Similar to how the ketogenic diet works, following the Atkins diet induces a state in the body where fat is used as a source of energy instead of carbohydrates and glucose. This helps the body shed excess fat that has accumulated faster. Unlike the keto diet, however, most people who follow the Atkins diet tend to gradually add more carb-rich foods to their diet as they start to get closer to reaching their weight loss goals.
The Atkins diet has been proven to be beneficial for weight loss. A study by the Washington University in St. Louis looked at the difference between low-carb high-fat and low-fat high-carb diets in terms of weight loss. They found that at certain intervals, particularly at three-month and six-month intervals, weight loss was significantly more impressive among people who followed the Atkins diet, a low-carb high-fat diet (1).
Generally, the Atkins diet is broken down into different phases or steps that should be followed to benefit from what this particular diet option can offer truly. During the initial phases, a significant restriction is placed on carb intake, but carbs are then slowly increased as you follow through the phases.
These are the phases that are part of the Atkins diet:
- Induction Phase: During this phase, the diet will be very similar to a ketogenic diet. Carbohydrate intake is usually restricted to under 20 grams per day. Fat and protein intake are on the high side. Leafy greens and other types of vegetables that are low in carbohydrates are included in the meal plan. This phase is often followed for the first two weeks, but there are some people who skip this phase or remain in this phase for a longer period of time.
- Balancing Phase: During this phase, some additional foods are introduced into your diet, slightly raising your carb intake, without affecting the effects that the Atkins diet should have on your body at this point. Most people tend to add more vegetables to their diet that are low in carbs during this phase, along with some fruit and nuts.
- Fine-Tuning Phase: The fine tuning phase is initiated once you start getting close to the weight that you are aiming for. At this point, you are close to reaching your weight loss goal. You can now start to (slowly) add more carbs to your diet. This can be done in the form of vegetables, fruit, and other food choices.
- Maintenance: You enter the maintenance phase of the Atkins diet once you reach your goal weight. At this point, you regain your ability to consume carbs like you normally did – but, this time, you need to opt for healthier sources of carbs. No more running to the food court to grab a packet of fried chips. You need to ensure that you do not increase your carb intake too much, as your new body weight needs to be maintained indefinitely during the maintenance phase.
Potential Benefits Of The Atkins Diet
The Atkins diet has been researched through clinical trials, as well as scientific studies, in order to determine whether it is safe or not and to thoroughly understand the benefits that the diet can provide a person. While the data is still somewhat limited, there is a number of studies that have already presented evidence of the possible benefits that the diet has.
The weight loss benefits of the Atkins diet have been well-documented in clinical trials. It has been found that low-carb high-fat diets do, in fact, induce better results in terms of losing excess fat, especially when compared to diets where fat intake is significantly restricted.
One study (2), published in the New England Journal of Medicine, divided 63 participants into two groups. One group followed a low-carb high-fat diet, while the other group had a restriction in their fat consumption. The study was conducted over a longer period of time than most other studies in order to assess the longer-term effects of these diets.
After 12 months, participants were recalled and analyzed. It was found that those who had a restriction in carbohydrates instead of fat were able to lose more weight. The group of participants who had a restriction in their fat intake lost an average of 4.5% in total body weight. The low-carb high-fat group, however, had an average reduction in their total body weight of 7.3%.
Another study (3) looked at how low-carb high-fat diets would affect people who are severely obese. The data was compared to a group of participants who followed a low-fat high-carb diet. This study was conducted over a period of six months.
In terms of weight loss, participants who followed a low-carb diet and consumed higher amounts of fat lost 5.8kg on average during the six-month period. The other group, who consumed lower amounts of fat, lost an average of 1.9kg in body weight.
Other improvements in health markers were also noted amongst the group who consumed a low-carb diet. Triglyceride levels were reduced by an average of 38 mg/dL. Levels of fasting blood glucose were reduced by an average of 26 mg/dL, and insulin levels decreased by an average of 27%. The low-fat group did not have such significant improvements and some factors, such as insulin levels and sensitivity, were actually worse at the six-month mark.
Risks Associated With The Atkins Diet
The Atkins diet is generally considered safe. While high-fat diets were once associated with a possible increase in the risk of heart-related diseases, these claims were proven to be myths through more recent scientific studies. The important key here is to make sure fats come from healthy sources and not from hydrogenated and trans fats.
When cutting down on carbs at the level that the Atkins diet demands, however, some people may experience a number of potential side-effects. In particular, many people may find that they experience issues such as constipation during the first two weeks. Other potential side-effects may include headaches, weakness, fatigue, and dizziness (4). These side-effects, however, tend to go away on their own as the body starts to turn to fat to produce energy.
Foods To Eat When Following The Atkins Diet
One of the most important factors that need to be understood before you can decide to follow the Atkins diet is the specific foods that you can eat on this diet. While there are many foods, such as sugary drinks and fried fast foods, that need to be eliminated from your diet, you still have a lot of tasty food options that you can choose to include in your daily meals.
Below, we share a list of important foods that you can include in the meal plan that you will develop while following the Atkins diet. It should be noted, however, that you do need to ensure you create a balanced meal plan that can still provide you with essential nutrients while you are on this particular diet.
- Fatty fish products provide both protein and healthy fats. These may include sardines, trout, and salmon.
- Seafood, such as shellfish, should also be ideally included.
- Full-fat dairy products are also excellent for increasing your intake of healthy fats. Examples of full-fat dairy products include full-fat yogurt, cream, butter, and, of course, full-fat cheese varieties.
- You should cook with healthy fats and oils, such as coconut oil. Extra virgin olive oil and avocado oil are also good options.
- Avocados can help you dose up on healthy fats.
- Seeds and nuts should be an important part of your diet but should be limited during the induction phase. Macadamia nuts, walnuts, and almonds are good options for nuts. Seeds may include sunflower seeds, chia seeds, pumpkin seeds, and more.
- You can eat pastured eggs on this diet, especially varieties that are enriched with omega-3 fatty acids.
- Meats like chicken, lamb, pork, and beef should be included. The Atkins diet allows for the consumption of bacon.
- Vegetables that are low in carbs should be included as well. Examples include asparagus, broccoli, and spinach.
Meal Ideas For The Atkins Diet
Getting started on the Atkins diet is often tough for people. While there are lists of foods to include readily available on the internet and even in some books that focus on this diet, it can still be difficult to create the right combinations of these “Atkins-friendly” foods in order to create appropriate meals.
With a few meal ideas, however, things can become much easier. Let’s take a look at a few ideas to help you get going.
Breakfast Meal Ideas For The Atkins Diet
- Fry some vegetables, along with a couple of eggs, in coconut oil.
- Mini egg omelets with cheese and broccoli
- Cheese and chive waffles (savory waffle variety)
Lunch Meal Ideas For The Atkins Diet
- Ground beef, topped with spinach and bell pepper
- Lettuce wrap with avocado, mushrooms, and chicken
- Egg Benedict with Hollandaise sauce and a slice of ham
Dinner Meal Ideas For The Atkins Diet
- Grilled chicken wings, served with salsa and greens
- Eggs and bacon, fried in coconut oil
- Cheesy Enchiladas
The Atkins diet has become very popular since the physician behind the diet published his own book. Even though not as popular as it once was, many people are still finding great success losing weight through the Atkins diet. A lot of people struggle to get started with the diet, due to restrictions in the food options that they can consume. We provided an overview of the most ideal foods to include on the Atkins diet in this post, along with some useful information that will help you determine if this is the right diet for you.