By severely limiting carbohydrate intake, the Atkins Diet produces ketosis, a state in which the body uses up its stored carbohydrate and begins to burn fats for energy.
How the Atkins Diet claims to work
Dr Atkins believed that weight gain is the result of fat synthesis from excess ketones. He claimed that fat loss occurs when the body changes from using carbohydrates for fuel to using fats. This change requires a period on a low-carbohydrate diet.
The Atkins Diet is organized into different stages. The first stage limits carbohydrates such as bread and pasta, fruits, and some vegetables and includes high-fat food to encourage your body to become ketotic and start using ketones for energy. Some carbohydrates can be reintroduced later, in the maintenance stages of the diet.
The Atkins Diet regimen
The Atkins programme begins with a 14-day induction phase to place your body into ketosis. During this period, your daily diet consists of 100g protein, which is the equivalent of eating about 400g (14oz) of meat, 75g fat, and less than 20g carbohydrates, totalling 1500-3500 calories per day.
The induction phase is followed by an on-going weight-loss phase, during which you continue to limit your intakes of carbohydrates to less than 30g per day - the amount of carbohydrate in two slices of bread or 225ml (8floz) cola.
The programme is then modified to pre-maintenance and maintenance phases, when your carbohydrate intake can be increased up to 120g (4oz) or eight servings per day. (For comparison, note that a typical “balanced” diet would include more than 300g/10oz or 16 servings of carbohydrate per day.)
Is the Atkins Diet healthy?
Reducing your calorie intake by cutting carbohydrates is a good slimming principle, but not when taken to this extreme. You will lose weight, but the long-term health effects are not known.
Some 3.6-4.5kg (8-10lb) of weight loss during the first week or so on a low-carbohydrate diet such as this is due to water loss associated with using up stored glycogen. However, while such an immediate result provides a psychological boost to a slimmer, once you start eating carbohydrates again this weight will return.
Another criticism of the diet is that glycogen stores are needed for exercise, and exercise is a key to long-term weight maintenance. For example, scientific studies of athletes show that dietary carbohydrate is essential for optimum athletic performance.
Dr Atkins claimed that you can eat as much as you want on his diet; however, like any other diet, this works only to the extent that your calorie intake is less than your calorie expenditure. Ketosis does tend to reduce appetite but, more importantly, eliminating an entire food group is a significant dietary change that may be enough to help you begin to lose weight. For example, many combination foods are eliminated including pizza (because of the crust), hamburgers (because of the bun), and all sandwiches (because of the bread). These foods can be high in fat, and can come in large portion sizes. Many convenience and snack foods such as biscuits, crisps, and pasta are excluded, and instead structured meals and low-fat snacks are eaten, resulting in a lower total calorie intake than usual.
Some people find the metabolic changes that result from this diet uncomfortable. Carbohydrate cravings, for example, may or may not disappear with time. Some people develop blood pressure problems, which can lead to dizziness on rising from a seated position, and some complain of bad breath. The lack of fibre in the Atkins Diet may lead to constipation and an increase in the risk of certain illnesses, such as colon cancer, while the restricted intake of dairy products, fruits, and vegetables may lead to deficiencies in calcium, the B vitamins, vitamin C, and certain important minerals including iron.
In order to counteract these potential deficiencies, Dr Atkins recommended the consumption of specific supplements available from his website. His claims that significant calories will be lost through excreting ketones in urine have been disproved. However, when ketones are excreted, they remove water and the minerals sodium and potassium from the body, which means that people on this programme must drink plenty of water, diet cola, tea, or coffee (but not fruit juices) to avoid dehydration.
These chemicals, also referred to as ketone bodies, are produced by your body when it does not get enough calories from carbohydrates and burns fats for energy instead.
This is a state in which the body has used up its store of carbohydrates and is producing ketones from the breakdown of fat.
A diet that causes your body to produce ketones. This involves limiting your intake of carbohydrates. Examples include the Atkins Diet and Scarsdale Diet.
- ■Omelette with ham, cheese, bacon, and mushrooms
- ■Chef's salad of ham, chicken, cheese, and eggs, with a creamy Italian dressing
- ■Grilled salmon
- ■Steamed kale tossed with finely chopped garlic, lemon juice, and sesame seeds
- ■Berries with cream
- ■Cheese sticks
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