The Atkins Diet is one of the oldest commercial low-carb diet plans out there. Dr. Atkins started a revolution, which just so happens to be in the name of his book, The Atkins Revolution. Understanding how the body works, how foods are used for energy, and how switching the body to fat for fuel sparks weight loss are all available in this complete guide.
What is the Atkins Diet? – A Brief Overlook
The Atkins Diet is a weight-loss and weight-maintenance program based on limiting carbohydrates while giving the green light to high-protein and high-fat foods. It was developed by cardiologist Dr. Robert Coleman Atkins. Atkins purported that a diet low in carbs but high in fat and protein causes the body to burn off its stores of fat and keep blood sugar levels regulated without feeling food-deprived or hungry. His plan has had millions of followers as well as substantial criticism from the medical community.
In 1963, after receiving his medical degree from Cornell University in 1955 and completing two residencies, Atkins tried unsuccessfully to lose the 30 or so pounds he’d gained since his pre-med days. He is quoted as saying he looked 45 at age 33 with three chins and a weight of 193 pounds. Atkins’ frustrating weight-loss efforts led him to research dieting programs, including Dr. Alfred W. Pennington’s theories on weight-loss by nearly eliminating carbohydrates instead of calories. Dr. Pennington’s 20 study subjects at DuPont during World War II lost an average of 22 pounds in a little more than 100 days by eliminating sugars and starches and replacing them with proteins and fats.
Using an adaptation to Pennington’s approach published in The Journal of the American Medical Association, Atkins lost 20 pounds within a month. From this success, he developed his own weight-loss program. While working as a medical consultant for the American Telephone and Telegraph Company in New York, his weight-loss methods were credited with getting 64 of 65 executives from the company down to their ideal weight, with the 65th making it halfway.
In 1972, Dr. Robert Atkins published his findings in Dr. Atkins’ Diet Revolution. To date, the Atkins diet book is the best-selling diet book in history after being updated and republished in 1992 as Dr. Atkins’ New Diet Revolution. Atkins’ central platform was that refined sugar and white flour – both significant sources of carbohydrates – dominated the diets of Americans and led to the nation’s obesity problem. He cited that between 1960 and 1980, the per capita consumption of white sugar had increased by 30 percent, the use of white flour had risen by 64 percent, and fat intake had declined.
Since the body uses fat and sugar as its energy sources, Atkins proposed a diet high in fat because he believed the body burns fat at a higher metabolic rate than it burns sugar. He, therefore, concluded one would lose weight faster on a high-fat diet. This theory is controversial, however, with subsequent studies showing no metabolic advantage to burning fat.
According to the Mayo Clinic, reducing carbohydrates aids in weight loss because it usually accounts for over half the calories a person consumes. Therefore, eating fewer carbs means eating fewer calories. The Atkins Diet may also be successful for some because it limits one’s food choices or because proteins and fats make a person feel fuller. Both reasons lead to less calorie intake and, therefore, more weight loss and a higher rate of success.
Additionally, some studies support that a diet low in carbs increases energy expenditure, so more calories are naturally burned throughout the day. Other studies suggest this metabolic advantage is due to the high protein intake of low-carb diets, as in the Atkins Diet, because protein boosts a person’s metabolism by increasing muscle mass, which burns calories even during times of inactivity.
Since its inception and to the present day, the Atkins Diet has received criticism from professionals within the medical community who are concerned that a diet high in fats or proteins can lead to serious health problems. The effects of overeating protein and fat and not enough carbs range from annoying to dangerous. Being in a bad mood is one side effect since your brain needs carbohydrates to function well. Lethargy and brain fog are also a result. Ironically, too much protein can also cause weight gain unless it is balanced out after the initial weight loss. Excess protein can also cause dehydration from the kidneys having to work harder to process too much nitrogen waste from digesting proteins. This potentially leads to kidney damage. Constipation, diarrhea, prostate cancer, and diabetes have also been linked to the excess protein.
With the Noom food logging system, you know immediately how much protein you’ve consumed. Try Noom today!
Bad breath is a side effect of a diet high in fats since digesting fat causes the release of ketones. Too many ketone bodies cause a foul odor to travel from the stomach and intestines through the mouth and out through urine. Eating too many fats, especially trans fats created by hydrogenating oil such as in fried foods, margarine, and shortening increases a person’s risk of heart disease. Saturated fats found in animal fat, milk, cheese, and butter cause a buildup of cholesterol over time, which can cause a stroke or heart attack. These fats also cause inflammation of fat cells, which can lead to diabetes and arthritis over time.
Despite the controversy and accusations of being a fad diet, the Atkins Diet experienced a surge in popularity between 2003 and 2004 when many people turned to Atkins for weight loss. It is credited with catapulting the low-carb-diet fad during this time, when 27 percent of Americans were following a low-carb diet, according to the results of a Gallup Poll. A 2014 Gallup Poll showed a slight decline to 23 percent of the general American population reducing their carb intake. Still, among those sincerely trying to lose weight, 44 percent were actively trying to avoid carbohydrates. However, 73 percent of dieters were also avoiding fats, a practice contrary to the Atkins Diet.
To his credit, although early editions of Dr. Atkins’ book promoted eating an unlimited amount of fatty meats and cheeses, his revision does not encourage this. Even so, some studies conclude that a link between a diet high in fats and coronary disease cannot be made. For instance, Siri-Tarino and colleagues analyzed 21 studies that aimed to measure the effects of dietary saturated fat on the risk of stroke, coronary heart disease, and cardiovascular disease. They found no significant evidence to link dietary saturated fat to any of the three conditions. Similarly, Chowdhury and associates assessed the results of 76 studies. They found no substantial difference when replacing polyunsaturated “healthy” fats with “unhealthy” saturated fats.
Since the main focus of the Atkins Diet, then, is limiting carbohydrates, the program counts carbs instead of calories. However, its system subtracts fiber and sugar alcohol content from the total carb count since these do not have much of an impact on blood sugar, which the body uses as fuel. Sugar alcohol, for example, has only two calories per gram. The American Diabetes Association recommends that diabetics not count sugar alcohol as carbohydrates.
The result of subtracting fiber and sugar alcohol from total carbs is called net carb count. The Atkins Diet bases its carb counting on the net carb count. To illustrate, a half-cup of fresh broccoli has a net carb of 1 gram since its total carbs are 2.3, but it has 1.3 grams of fiber, as the Mayo Clinic explains. The data on the nutritional label of foods can be used to calculate their net carb count, and Atkins also has a list of precalculated net carbs for conventional foods and drinks likely to be used on this diet.
The Difference Between Noom and Other Plans and Programs
When it comes to learning how to eat and how to live for weight loss, Noom works from a psychological perspective. According to the Chief of Psychology for Noom, Dr. Andreas Michaelides, “By understanding the past behaviors and attitudes of all types of users, we know the best way to meet our users where they are in their journey to help them maximize their change of long-term weight-loss success.” Noom, as a weight-loss platform, uses the power of food logging, among other advanced technologies, to teach simple, key behaviors for lasting change. Behavior changes that include self-efficacy, motivation, and knowledge are just the start of how psychology can interact with food, so you lose more weight in a way that lasts a lifetime.
Noom works with tech-based tools partnered with support from real-life coaches in a structured program that connects the user with the social support and positive reinforcement needed to change behavior in a way that increases the likelihood of success.
Not all dietary changes are for everyone, and no two weight-loss plans should be the same, which is precisely how Noom works.
By identifying specific areas where changes can be made to reach goals of weight loss and health improvement successfully, users realize where their best moves are to be made and how those changes are incorporated into a lifestyle they can adopt for the long-term.
A More Detailed Look at the Atkins Diet
Atkins Diet and Macros
Carbohydrates: Carbohydrates are sugar molecules found in foods. They’re a combination of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen, or CHO. The body uses carbohydrates as fuel or energy to think, move, and maintain all organ and bodily functions. When it doesn’t have enough carbs available, it uses fats as fuel. When neither is present, it uses the protein found in your muscles, which is not a healthy condition. So the body needs to have either carbohydrates or fats or a combination of the two to function properly on the Atkins Diet.
Carbohydrates are macronutrients. These are nutrients the body needs in large amounts to get the energy – also known as calories – that it needs. Fats and proteins are also macronutrients. Micronutrients, on the other hand, are nutrients the body needs in small amounts, such as vitamins, minerals, and water.
Depending on the number of sugar molecules a carbohydrate contains, it is classified as either simple or complex. The two types of simple carbohydrates are monosaccharides and disaccharides. Monosaccharides are made of one sugar molecule and include glucose found in many foods, galactose found in milk, and fructose from fruit. Disaccharides comprise two sugar molecules and include sucrose like table sugar, lactose in milk, and the maltose found in beer.
Complex carbohydrates are in the form of polysaccharides. Polysaccharides contain three or more sugar molecules and are found in starchy foods like pasta, fiber, and potatoes.
Your body can break down simple carbohydrates much faster than complex carbohydrates, so they enter the bloodstream quicker and thereby provide your body with energy faster. Foods like fruits, vegetables, milk, processed foods, and refined sugars are sources of simple carbohydrates. As you might expect, simple carbohydrates in the form of candies, cakes, table sugar, sodas, and syrups should be avoided for optimal health, according to the Atkins Diet. They provide energy but lack nutrients, so they end up being “empty calories” and a source of weight gain.
Complex carbohydrates provide vitamins, minerals, and fiber to the body as well as energy. Most of a person’s carbohydrates should come from complex carbohydrates and naturally occurring sugars found in foods like fruits and vegetables. Complex carbohydrates are also found in foods like beans, peas, pasta, whole grains, and starchy vegetables such as potatoes. These carbohydrates take longer for the body to break down into a source of energy, so you have energy reserves for a longer amount of time than you do with simple carbohydrates.
The body converts both simple and complex carbohydrates into glucose, which is used as energy. Glucose not used immediately for energy is stored as the molecule glycogen for later use. Another term for glucose is blood sugar, and the amount of glucose in your bloodstream is called your blood sugar level. As your blood sugar rises, your body produces insulin to transfer the excess glucose from your blood into your muscles and liver. Since the muscles and liver can absorb only a certain amount of blood sugar at a time, some of the excess glycogen is stored as fat. That’s why one of the dangers of eating too many carbs is weight gain.
Your body needs insulin to either use or store the glucose it makes from carbohydrates for later use. For individuals with diabetes who cannot produce insulin, the glucose stays in the bloodstream, causing the blood sugar levels to rise. People with type 2 diabetes can control their blood sugar levels by controlling their carbohydrate intake with a healthy diet and exercise. They may need to supplement with insulin shots, and individuals with type 1 diabetes always need insulin.
The Atkins nutritional approach to dieting relies on the breaking down of fats, called lipolysis, into energy sources instead of using carbohydrates. However, a diet high in protein but low in carbs like Atkins also creates the opportunity for the body to undergo gluconeogenesis. This is when our bodies make glucose, mostly via the liver, when blood sugar is low, and it relies partly on protein molecules to do this. Gluconeogenesis happens during periods when the body hasn’t taken in enough food, such as when fasting. The beginning phase of the Atkins diet can also encourage gluconeogenesis, which means the body is not burning fat. This is not a permanent state, however, and eventually, the body does convert to burning fat as its fuel source.
Net Carbohydrates: Net carbohydrates are calculated by subtracting the amount of fiber in food from the total carbohydrate count. For instance, if a portion of food has 20g of carbs and 10g of fiber, the net carb count is 10g. This is the number of carbohydrates you count in your day’s total.
The Atkins Diet and Ketosis
Ketosis is the body’s natural reaction to not having enough carbohydrates to convert to energy. Glucose, which is produced by the breaking down of carbs, is most people’s primary source of energy. But when the switch to a low-carb diet is made, the body is forced to break down fat for fuel through lipolysis. In the process, the body also produces less insulin. These changes trigger the liver to produce more ketone bodies, which are a significant source of energy to the brain. So, when you’re burning more fat, producing less insulin, and therefore making more ketones, your body is in what’s called ketosis.
In the induction phase of the Atkins Diet, when your intake of carbs is only 20 grams a day, it is possible to achieve ketosis. First, the body burns stored carbs, and a lot of water is expelled by the kidneys to get rid of waste. These two things make up most of the weight that’s rapidly lost in the first week of the Atkins Diet. After that, however, if the low carb intake is sustained, staying in a state of ketosis can result in significant weight loss since the body is eating away at the stored fat as its energy source through lipolysis.
Before starting on a restrictive diet like Atkins, talk with your Noom coach to see if there’s a better way for you, via a personalized weight-loss plan, to lose weight without feeling deprived.
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The Five Atkins Phases (Atkins 20 and Atkins 40)
Phase 0: Preparation
During the preparation phase, you are removing, or using up, the foods in the home that conflict with the Atkins Diet. This is a difficult task if you’re in a household of multiple people, and you’re the only one following a low-carb diet. In this case, designate a section in the pantry, refrigerator, or a kitchen shelf where you can put all the Atkins-friendly foods you’ll need.
Phase 1: Induction
In the Induction phase, you are consuming at or below 20g of carbohydrates a day, in most cases. If you’re choosing one of the new Atkins 40 or Atkins 100 plans, you’ll start at 40g or 100g of carbohydrates, respectively. Phase one lasts a minimum of 14 days. The stage can be extended well beyond the first two weeks if you have a lot of weight to lose.
Phase 1 is for you if:
- “Your goal is to lose 14lbs or more
- You’re inactive or have a slow metabolism
- You’ve regained the weight you once lost
- You want to lose a little bit of weight, but quickly”
Guidelines for Phase 1
- Eat three to five times a day. (3 regular meals or 5 smaller meals)
- Eat regularly – no more than 6 hours between meals
- Eat enough protein – Atkins suggests between 115 and 175g per day, but taller men may consume up to 225g a day. We assume that goes for taller women, as well.
- Eat all 20g (40g or 100g) of carbs each day. Most of these carbs (13-14g) should come from nutrient-rich vegetables.
- If you take a daily vitamin, you may need to switch to an iron-free version. Talk to your doctor about multivitamin intake and a low-carb diet.
- Drink at least eight, 8-ounce glasses of an Atkins-approved beverage (or beverages) per day.
What is the Induction Flu?
During the first week or two, some people experience flu-like symptoms as the body switches over to burning fat for energy. Some people feel:
You may also experience:
- Food cravings
- Inability to concentrate or brain fog
In recent versions of the Atkins Diet, there’s more advice than ever on how to combat the Atkins flu, as it is often called. At the beginning of the Induction phase, you need to:
Drink water. Hydration is crucial to fighting off keto flu.
Make sure you’re getting electrolytes. Increased fluid loss, through urination, can reduce electrolyte levels. Drinking calorie-free sports drinks often work to replenish electrolytes.
Don’t exercise too hard. Strenuous exercise can cause extreme fatigue, muscle cramping, and stomach cramps in some people at the start of the Atkins Diet. Keep moving with lighter exercise for at least the first few days.
Eat your carbs, protein, and fats. Even if you don’t feel like eating, you need to coerce your body into fat-burning mode by giving it the fuel it needs – fats. You round out nutrition with the proteins and carbs from vegetables.
Phase 2: OWL (on-going weight loss)
Once you’re through the initial Induction phase, you move into OWL or on-going weight loss. During this phase, you’ll start adding back around five carbs a week until you stop losing weight. From there, you can cut back five or 10g of carbs until you start losing weight again. During OWL, you may find you adjust your carb intake several times before reaching those last few pounds.
Phase 2 is for you if:
- “Your goal is to lose less than 14lbs
- You’re happy to lose weight a little more slowly
- You have more weight to lose but want to enjoy more food variety
- You’re vegetarian.”
Guidelines for Phase 2
- Start at 30g of carbs a day if you’re vegetarian.
- Add 5g to total carb intake per week up to 40g a day.
- Feel free to add nuts, berries, and seeds to your meals and snacks.
- Atkins convenience foods are now allowed.
- Continue to drink at least eight, 8-ounce glasses of water or other approved beverage each day.
Phase 3: Pre-Maintenance
Pre-maintenance – By the Pre-maintenance phase, you’ve nearly reached your goal. You have around 5 to 10 pounds left to lose. Pre-maintenance is like OWL, but this time you’re slowing weight loss down again as you increase carbs by 10g per week to the maintenance level.
During Phase 3, Atkins suggests you work toward getting the right balance of carbs, proteins, and fats to maintain weight loss. Listen to what your body is saying and remember this phase can take some time, but learning how to eat to keep the weight off is crucial to the success of the diet.
Phase 4: Lifetime Maintenance
Lifetime maintenance – By Lifetime maintenance, you’ve reached your goal weight, and you’ve established just how many carbohydrates you can consume each day to maintain your new weight. The Lifetime phase can revert back to any of the previous stages if weight gain occurs. Often, weight gain is a result of additional carbs creeping back into your diet.
The significant change during phase 4 is that the amount of fat you eat will lower as your carb count increases. Again, like with Pre-maintenance, Maintenance will take some trial and error to find the right balance of carbs, proteins, and fats.
The Atkins 100 Diet
The Atkins 100 Diet is “a lifestyle approach, so start at 100 grams of net carbs and continue as long as you are maintaining your weight.” Many people starting here are looking to gain the purported health benefits of a low-carb lifestyle.
Guidelines for Atkins 100
- Eat three servings of up to 6 ounces of protein daily.
- Consume three servings of healthy fats – added to foods.
- Consume at least ⅕ of all carbohydrates in vegetable form and the rest in the form of grains, nuts, and fruits.
Noom doesn’t ask you to stop eating carbs, or any other foods. You get to eat all your favorites while losing weight once and for all.
The Atkins Diet and Food
The Atkins Diet promotes the use of whole, unprocessed foods as the preferred way of eating. The lists of acceptable foods focus on those with a low value on the glycemic index scale, meaning those with carbohydrates that are digested, absorbed, and metabolized by the body slowly for optimal energy storage. Since Atkins is a low-carb diet, one’s total daily intake should remain low, whether eating low-glycemic carbohydrates like black rice and vegetables or high-glycemic carbs such as refined sugar and white bread.
What are Foundation Foods?
Low-carb foundation vegetables are the backbone of all phases of the new Atkins Diet and the primary source of nutrients in Phase 1 Induction. They’re packed with nutrients to give the body the vitamins and minerals it needs and high in fiber to aid in digestion. The list is long, but here is a sample:
- Alfalfa sprouts
- Chicory Greens
- Button Mushroom
- Bell Pepper
- Green Beans
- Bok Choy
- Turnip Greens
- Swiss Chard
- Yellow Squash
- Snow Peas
- Collard Greens
- Sauteed Mushrooms
- Brussel’s Sprouts
These protein sources are acceptable foods across all phases of the Atkins Diet. It is recommended to eat proteins from different categories throughout the week.
- Fish: High in healthy fats, vitamins D and B2, calcium, iron, and potassium. All types of fish are acceptable sources of protein, including salmon, tuna, and halibut.
- Fowl: High in healthy fats, B vitamins, and minerals like iron and zinc. All poultry is acceptable, including chicken, turkey, pheasant, and duck.
- Shellfish: High in healthy fats, omega-3 fatty acids, and minerals like zinc, copper, and iron. All shellfish, like crab, shrimp, and lobster, have zero net carbs, but oysters and mussels are higher in total carbs, so they should be limited.
- Meat: Red meats like beef, lamb, and venison are high in vitamins B6 and B12, niacin, iron, and zinc. Pork is high in thiamin, selenium, and vitamin B6. Limit processed and cured meats like ham, bacon, and cold cuts.
- Eggs: High in vitamin A and antioxidants, which promote heart health and lower risk of infection. Eggs can be prepared in various ways, including fried, scrambled, and deviled.
Fats and Oils
The Atkins Diet considers eating healthy fat an integral part of weight management since it makes you feel fuller, and a diet low in carbs forces the body to use fats as its fuel source, so they are not stored in the body as excess. In addition to the fat that occurs naturally in foods, all phases of the Atkins Diet call for an additional 2-4 tablespoons of healthy fats per day.
- Mayonnaise without added sugar
- Olive oil
- Vegetable oils (canola, sesame, walnut, avocado, etc.)
Cheese has about one gram of carbohydrates per ounce, so the Atkins Diet recommends limiting cheese intake to 3-4 ounces per day. These cheeses are acceptable from the start of the Atkins Diet:
- Whole Milk
You can track your foundation foods with Noom.
All it takes is a few seconds to find your food and voila – you have all the nutrition information you need, including carb count.
Additional Foods for Phase 2 and Atkins 40
Along with the foods listed for Phase 1, dieters in Phase 2 and those following the Atkins 40 diet can add additional dairy products, nuts, fruits, and legumes to their meals. The amount one can consume daily depends on the net carb content of each. Examples include but are not limited to the following:
- Dairy – yogurt, milk, cottage cheese, mozzarella, heavy cream
- Nuts, seeds, and their butter – walnuts, almonds, peanuts, pecans, cashews
- Fruits – all fresh berries, cantaloupe, honeydew
- Legumes – lentils, chickpeas, kidney, lima, pinto, navy, and black beans
Additional Foods for Phase 3, Phase 4, and Atkins 40
In these phases, all other healthy foods are added to the accepted lists. These foods contain carbs, so Atkins gives clear guidelines for measuring serving sizes by net carbohydrates to help dieters stay within the required carb limit. Some of these acceptable foods include:
- Starchy vegetables – carrots, beets, peas, sweet potato, corn, acorn squash, parsnips
- Fruits – all remaining fruits, including watermelon, banana, coconut, kiwi
- Grains – oatmeal, wheat, barley, brown rice, grits, quinoa, polenta, whole wheat pasta
Atkins Approved Drinks
Just as there are foods allowed or not allowed, on the different phases of the Atkins Diet, there are also drinks that fit into the plan and those that should be left out. Beverages permitted on the Atkins Diet include:
- Black Coffee
- Calorie-Free Seltzer Water
- Club Soda
- Carb-Free Herbal Teas
As for alcohol on Atkins, the most significant concerns are mixed drinks, wine, and many beers. Some commercial products, mainly beers, often list the total carbs per can or bottle – tailoring to the low-carb, or reduced-carb eating plan.
Atkins (Low-Carb) Prepared Foods and Snacks
Once you reach OWL, phase 2 of the Atkins Diet, you can add in prepared low-carb foods available from the Atkins company, and many others. The snacks are not calorie-controlled, but they do have more protein and fats than other “diet” meals and snacks. The three big Atkins products are:
- Frozen Meals
Low-Carb Food Substitutes
Just because you’re following a low-carb diet like Atkins doesn’t mean you have to give up every carb-rich comfort food you enjoy. Some fantastic food hacks help you switch out those high-carb foods for low-carb alternatives.
Spaghetti: Spaghetti squash, when baked or roasted, resembles spaghetti. Top with a low-carb tomato or alfredo sauce.
Bread: If you must have your bread and low-carb versions don’t cut it, the best breads are pumpernickel (10g per slice), whole wheat (12g per slice), and rye (12g per slice).
Potatoes: All varieties of potato, even sweet potatoes, and yams, are high carb – when measured against the rules of the Atkins Diet. Reasonable substitutes in texture and usability include celeriac root, cauliflower, rutabaga, and some low-carb root vegetables.
Rice: Riced vegetables are the best replacement for starchy rice. The most common varieties are riced cauliflower and broccoli. However, there are also sweet potato, squash, and beets that may be low enough in carbs per serving to fit into your plan.
Milk: Milk is the easiest replacement to make on the Atkins Diet. Simply choose an unsweetened variety of alternatives like almond milk, cashew milk, or soy milk. Nut milk tends to be the lowest in carbs, though coconut milk is the lowest at less than one gram per serving.
Atkins Diet, Vegetarians, and Vegans
One of the hallmarks of the Atkins diet is its promotion of eating protein, and most of the sources of protein it relies on are animal products: meats, fish, shellfish, fowl, and eggs. However, it is possible to be successful on the Atkins Diet as a vegetarian or vegan when plant-based protein sources are substituted for the popular animal-based proteins.
Do you need to restrict carbs to lose weight? No, science says you don’t.
Noom, based on research into more than 35,000 users, has been shown to help people lose weight and keep it off, without jumping into a restrictive plan.
The Atkins Diet recommends vegetarians begin at Phase 2 of Atkins 20 when seeds and nuts are allowed. Using these sources of protein along with eggs, dairy, and soy products, a vegetarian can get the 4-6-ounce servings of protein three times a day that the diet calls for. Tofu, eggs, and cheeses are vegetarian-friendly protein sources and provide all essential amino acids.
Vegans are encouraged to use the Atkins 40 diet since legumes, nuts, and seeds are part of the regime from day one. You’ll also get your protein from soy products, rice cheeses, wheat gluten (seitan), quinoa, and other high-protein grains. Vegan eaters can even start in Phase 2 or 3 of the Atkins 20 when protein sources are more plentiful than at the induction phase. Beginning in the induction phase will likely be difficult for vegans because of the limited amount of protein choices.
The success rate of a low-cholesterol, high-protein vegan diet has been researched through a vegan Atkins-type diet study published in 2009. The study was conducted by researchers who were interested in what effect a low-carbohydrate diet high in vegetable proteins instead of animal proteins has on weight loss. They also wanted to see this diet’s impact on the concentration of LDL cholesterol in the blood. LDL cholesterol is considered “bad” cholesterol since it is linked to an increased risk of heart disease. HDL or “good” cholesterol, on the other hand, is associated with lowering the risk of heart disease.
The study subjects were 44 men and women who were overweight and had high cholesterol. For four weeks, some followed a vegan diet low in cholesterol but high in vegetable proteins while others followed a high-cholesterol, low-protein lacto-ovo vegetarian diet. Lacto-ovo vegetarians do not eat meat, but they eat meat products such as eggs and milk. They also don’t eat fish or poultry.
Here’s a summary of the study results:
Low-Carb Vegan: Calories came from 26% carbs, 31% protein, 43% fat. Carbohydrate sources included high fiber foods such as oats and barley. No starchy foods allowed. Protein sources included gluten, soy, nuts, fruits, vegetables, and cereals. Fat sources included nuts, vegetable oils, soy, avocado, and seitan.
High-Carb Vegetarian: Calories came from 58% carbs, 16% protein, 25% fat. Carbohydrate sources included vegan sources with added dairy and eggs. Protein sources included low-fat milk or skim milk dairy products, egg whites, and egg substitute. Fat sources included low-saturated fats from lacto-ovo (dairy and eggs) sources.
Subjects on both diets were able to lose weight and did so at similar rates – about 4 kg on average. This is evidence that an Atkins-like diet that is low in cholesterol but high in proteins and fats can be successfully adapted to a vegan lifestyle and result in weight loss in the short term. It’s also significant to note the additional benefits apparent to the low-carb vegan diet as compared to the high-carb vegetarian diet: The low carb dieters had lower cholesterol and lower blood pressure than the high carb dieters.
The low carb, high-protein, high-fat vegan diet is termed the Eco-Atkins diet by its researchers since it is based on the Atkins model with vegan-only sources of food. The same team of researchers conducted an additional study on the Eco-Atkins diet, published in 2013, this time for a more extended period of six months. The results were similar to the first study. Eco-Atkins dieters lost an average of 6.9 kg as compared to 5.8 kg lost by those on the high-carb vegetarian diet. The Eco-Atkins dieters also experienced lower levels of LDL-cholesterol and triglycerides, which is a significant form of fat stored in the body that increases one’s risk of stroke and other diseases when too much is in the bloodstream.
Egg Substitutes for Vegans and Lacto-Vegetarians
Eggs are a go-to choice for Atkins dieters since they are considered a complete source of protein. Amino acids are the building blocks of protein, and eggs contain all nine essential amino acids that the human body needs and can only get from foods. Also, eggs are rich in vitamins and minerals. The egg white contains vitamins B2, B6, B12, and D as well as selenium, iron, zinc, and copper. Egg yolks provide vitamins A, D, E, and K, and lecithin. Lecithin is necessary to carry out bodily functions such as helping to digest fats and transferring nutrients in and out of cells.
According to Oregon State University’s Linus Pauling Institute, eggs are one of the best sources of lecithin. Lecithin aids in brain function, memory, sleep, and learning. It also has weight-loss benefits since it breaks down fats into smaller molecules. Furthermore, lecithin helps counteract the high cholesterol content of eggs by absorbing the bad cholesterol and boosting good cholesterol.
For vegans and lacto-vegetarians who want or need to avoid eggs, plant-based egg alternatives are available for baking as well as scrambling. Even Diet Coke and other carbonated sodas can be used as leaveners. The nutritional value of each vegan egg substitute varies from high to barely any at all. Still, those with the highest amount of protein are tofu, chickpea flour, and chia seeds.
Tofu is a good substitute for eggs when making omelets, quiches, and custards. The result of whipping tofu makes a firm, eggy texture rather than a fluffy one. Tofu is made from curdling soybean milk and pressing it into a solid form.
Conversion: 1/4 cup pureed tofu = 1 egg
Nutritional value: good source of protein with eight essential amino acids; high in iron, calcium, manganese, selenium, and phosphorous; good source of magnesium, copper, zinc, vitamin B1.
Chickpea flour is also suitable for making omelets and scrambles as well as baking and cooking.
Conversion: 3 T chickpea flour + 3 T water = 1 egg
Nutritional value: high in protein and folate; good source of vitamin B-6, magnesium, potassium.
Aquafaba is the liquid that results from cooking beans, like what you find in a can of kidney beans, chickpeas, or white beans. Its consistency is like that of egg whites. It can be whipped up into a meringue, create the binding needed in baked goods, and make mayonnaise, cheese, butter, and cocktails. Any bean liquid can be used, but vegan cooks recommend chickpeas, also known as garbanzo beans.
Conversion: 3 T = 1 egg yolk, 2 T = 1 egg white, 5 T = 1 whole egg
Nutritional value: only trace amounts of minerals and protein.
Flaxseed meal mixed with water creates a healthy binding agent that’s good for baking. It doesn’t fluff up naturally, so it’s best used in recipes that call for vinegar, baking powder, or baking soda for baked goods that you want to rise.
Conversion: 1 T ground flaxseed + 3 T water = 1 egg
Nutritional value: high in fiber, omega-3 fatty acids, lignans.
Chia seeds work the same way flax seeds do, as a binding agent for baking and cooking. When you mix the seeds with water, allow the mixture to sit 10-15 minutes until it has a gel consistency before adding it to the other ingredients.
Conversion: 1 T chia seeds + 3 T hot water = 1 egg
Nutritional value: high in fiber, protein, omega-3, and other fats, calcium, manganese, magnesium, phosphorus; good source of zinc, potassium, and vitamins B1, B2, B3.
Applesauce and mashed banana add moisture to recipes as an egg would. They do not help with rising, it’s best to use them in baking recipes that already have a leavening agent. Keep in mind that they add a little flavor as well.
Conversion: 1/4 cup = 1 egg
Nutritional value: applesauce – high in fiber and vitamin C; banana – high in fiber, potassium, and vitamins B-6 and C; good source of magnesium.
What Nutrients are Missing on the Atkins Diet?
There are seven nutrients most often affected when eating a low-carb diet of any kind. The nutrients are thiamin, folate, vitamin C, magnesium, vitamin D, vitamin E, and calcium.
Best Atkins-Friendly Sources of Lacking Nutrients
Thiamin: beef, pork, tuna, trout, and some nuts and seeds.
Folate: green leafy vegetables, avocado, and asparagus.
Vitamin C: red pepper, parsley, kale, strawberries, and broccoli.
Magnesium: avocado, pumpkin seeds, spinach, and mackerel.
Vitamin D: halibut, mackerel, trout, pork, and eggs.
Vitamin E: nuts and oils.
Calcium: hard cheeses, calcium-fortified low-carb drinks, and canned salmon or sardines.
Tracking the carb counts for each food in a recipe can be tedious. Instead, add all the ingredients to Noom, and you can find exact carb information for all the ingredients faster.
The Atkins Diet and Your Health
A low-carb diet was used as early as 400BC when Hippocrates shared that he believed certain foods could cause or aggravate seizure activity. With that long history behind it, what does science today have to say about the effects of the Atkins Diet on your health?
Epilepsy: “Epilepsy is a central nervous system (neurological) disorder in which brain activity becomes abnormal, causing seizures or periods of unusual behavior, sensations, and sometimes loss of awareness.”
When patients living with active epilepsy were placed on a modified Atkins Diet, about ⅓ of the patients noticed at least a 50% reduction in seizures. Up to 20% reported being seizure-free. “The modified Atkins diet is a less restrictive alternative to the traditional ketogenic diet. This diet is started on an outpatient basis without a fast, allows unlimited protein and fat, and does not restrict calories or fluids.”
Additional research shared the same results, “Evidence shows that KD and its variants are a good alternative for non-surgical pharmacoresistant patients with epilepsy of any age, taking into account that the type of diet should be designed individually and that less-restrictive and more-palatable diets are usually better options for adults and adolescents.”
Celiac Disease: “Celiac disease is an immune disease in which people can’t eat gluten because it will damage their small intestine. If you have celiac disease and eat foods with gluten, your immune system responds by damaging the small intestine. Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye, and barley.”
A case study in 2005 reported a 46-year-old woman who, after following a low-carb diet for three months, started eating bread. Gastrointestinal symptoms like gas and bloating occurred. After being tested, she was diagnosed with celiac disease. After removing gluten, the bread, the symptoms resolved. The fact that her father was also diagnosed with the condition is a confounding factor. Still, the case study suggests a possible benefit of low-carb dieting for people with celiac disease.
Research also shows that there may be a connection between a low-carb, gluten-free diet, and weight loss in people with celiac disease. A group of patients was studied to find the impact of a gluten-free diet on adult body composition. What they found was that men and women who ate an unbalanced diet, more fat than carbs, tended to have a better body composition than participants who chose different eating habits.
High Blood Pressure: “High blood pressure (HBP or hypertension) is when your blood pressure, the force of your blood pushing against the walls of your blood vessels, is consistently too high.”
Reducing carbohydrates to around 70g per day is enough to reduce high blood pressure, according to some research. Body composition and blood lipid profile also changed for the better.
What’s interesting is that research also shows that a high-carb meal causes a significant reduction in blood pressure soon after eating. However, the effects didn’t last when a high-carb diet was adopted longer-term.
Diabetes: “Diabetes is a disease that occurs when your blood glucose, also called blood sugar, is too high.”
Because carbohydrates are on center stage for people with diabetes, research into the impact of cutting carbs on symptoms and the disease process have been consistently published for decades.
In 2015, a randomized control trial involving 115 obese patients with type 2 diabetes studied the impact of a low-carb diet versus a high-carb diet on blood glucose stability. The more stable the glucose level, the better in control the disease. What researchers found was that “the LC diet, which was high in unsaturated fat and low in saturated fat, achieved greater improvements in the lipid profile, blood glucose stability, and reductions in diabetes medication requirements…”
Jump forward to 2018 and research involving patients in China showed that a low-carb diet “can improve blood glucose more than [a low-fat diet] in…patients with [type 2 diabetes mellitus].”
Jump forward again to 2019, and research shows that a low-carb diet and a very low-carb diet (keto diet) both promoted blood glucose stability in patients with type 2 diabetes, often called adult-onset diabetes. However, the same results were not reported in patients with type 1 diabetes. The issue of a long-term commitment to a low-carb diet was also brought up.
Some research indirectly suggests that a low-carb diet causes constipation. In patients with diarrhea-predominant Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), a low-carb diet significantly reduced symptoms.
Additional research suggests that high saturated fat intake causes constipation, which could be an issue if the types or quality of fats is not taken into consideration when following the Atkins Diet.
High Cholesterol: “High blood cholesterol is a condition that causes the levels of certain bad fats, or lipids, to be too high in the blood. This condition is usually caused by lifestyle factors, such as diet, in combination with the genes that you inherit from your parents. Less commonly, it is caused by other medical conditions or some medicines.”
Eating a high-fat diet, you’d think that cholesterol levels would rise on Atkins, and that’s what research has found. In a 2018 study, participants who consumed a low-carb, high-fat diet for three weeks showed increases in low-density lipoproteins or LDL cholesterol. LDL cholesterol is often called “bad” cholesterol. The total growth varied widely from a 5% increase to a 107% increase.
The problem of increased “bad” cholesterol may be even worse in men and women who are trained or exercise frequently and intensely. “This study showed that a group of elite athletes habitually consuming a very low-carbohydrate (LC) diet for over a year exhibited markedly elevated concentrations of total and LDL-C, above levels considered desirable and beyond that which has been observed in ketogenic diet interventions in non-athletes.”
Exercising on Atkins
The research above on the Atkins Diet (low-carb) on “bad” cholesterol levels in athletes poses the question – is Atkins safe for athletes or those who train intensely? There is no shortage of research into the impact of a low-carbohydrate diet on exercise performance and the health of athletes.
Considering the latest research – the Atkins Diet, or other low-carb diets, may not be ideal for trained or training athletes.
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In April 2019, basketball players were followed for four weeks of low-carb dieting followed by seven days of carb loading. During the low-carb phase, performance was significantly affected. “Four weeks of the low-carbohydrate diet decreased total work capacity, which returned to baseline values after the carbohydrate loading procedure.” This effect suggests causation between the low-carb diet and reduced work capacity.
Also, in April 2019, research showed that “short-term low-carbohydrate, ketogenic diets reduce exercise performance in activities that are heavily dependent on anaerobic energy systems.” Anaerobic refers to high-intensity, short-lasting activities like sprinting.
However, newer research, this time from July 2019, didn’t come to the same conclusion. In the case of this study, “the 12-week [very low carbohydrate high fat) diet did not impair high-intensity or intermittent exercise lasting up to 25 min.” Keep in mind the previously mentioned research that suggested a low-carb diet wasn’t for athletes competing in short-duration, high-intensity exercise, which would last much fewer than 25 minutes.
What Diets are Comparable to the Atkins Diet?
Keto: A high-fat, low-carb diet very similar to Atkins. Macronutrient (carbs, proteins, fats) intake is calculated in percentages and not grams. For instance, someone on the keto diet may consume 75% of calories from fat, 20% from protein, and 5% from carbohydrates. The total carbs allowed depends on the total calories consumed.
Keto 2.0: A high-fat, moderate-carb diet that makes drastic changes to macronutrient allowances. In the 2.0 version, you can consume 50% of calories from fat, 30% from protein, and 20% from carbs.
Paleo: A diet focused on how our earliest ancestors ate. The diet eliminates all grains, dairy, and processed foods. Because all that’s left is protein and vegetables, the diet tends to be low-carb, but not necessarily high-fat.
South Beach: The original South Beach Diet was a moderate-carb, protein-rich diet that slightly resembled Atkins. Today, the program is a meal delivery service with keto-friendly options.
Whole30: On the Whole30 program, you can eat eggs, seafood, meats, vegetables, fruits, naturally-occurring fats, and many herbs and spices. You’re not allowed to eat grains, sugar, dairy, legumes, or anything else that contains carbs. The diet focuses on whole, natural foods, but it is naturally low-carb.
Dukan Diet: Like Atkins, the Dukan Diet is broken up into phases. Phase 1 is an all-you-can-eat protein extravaganza. The second phase adds in vegetables with the third phase adding cheeses and bread. By the end, unlike Atkins, this time, you’re eating what you want to eat.
Zero-Carb Diet: On a zero-carb diet, you eat only foods that contain 0 net carbs. These foods include meats, oils, butter, lard, and some processed fiber noodles. All carbs are taken into consideration, so seemingly zero-carb products, like artificial sweetener, which has about one carb per packet. This diet is nutritionally deficient.
Fat Fast: On the fat fast, which is even more strict than the zero-carb diet, you eat nearly 100% of all calories from fat. Many people use recipes for fat bombs to reach total fat intake needed to maintain ketosis. This diet is hugely nutrient deficient.
Atkins Diet Pros and Cons
There is no single diet that meets the needs of all individual, so dieters need to consider how much weight they want to lose, their health status, the level of convenience they’re looking for if strict or more flexible structure works best for them, and the features of a diet that they’re most likely going to have success with. For the Atkins Diet, there are both pros and cons related to each of these factors. Keep in mind that what can be considered a drawback for some, such as a restrictive choice of foods to eat, might be a pro for others who thrive more with a simple, very structured approach to losing weight.
- No membership fees
- No meetings to attend
- Convenient packaged foods available, but not required for purchase
- No counting calories
- Has evolved from its earlier days of eating unlimited proteins and fats to eating them in moderation and include vegetables
- Learn how to eat healthy carbs instead of empty carbs
- Generally lowers harmful cholesterol levels
- Encourages eating healthy fats
- Flu side effects of ketosis in the induction phase
- Long-term health effects of high protein, high-fat diet not studied yet
- Atkins 20 starts off with a drastic change in eating habits with few food choices
- High-protein diets cause constipation
- Low success rate for keeping weight off
- Fatigue experienced due to lack of carbs
- Strict eating plan
- Food binging can occur with strict diets
- Requires counting net carbs
There are so many ins and outs and intricacies that make up the Atkins, low-carb diet. In some circles and with some research, the diet has shown promise in treating certain diseases and promoting weight loss. But, there is also research that shows the weight-loss benefit doesn’t last beyond the first six months. Here’s a little more research into what is the most popular low-carb diet of all time – the Atkins Diet.
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Research on Low-Carb Diets
Increased Risk of Death?
“Our study suggests a potentially unfavourable association of LCD with overall and cause-specific mortality, based on both new analyses of an established cohort and by pooling previous cohort studies. Given the nature of the study, causality cannot be proven; we cannot rule out residual bias. Nevertheless, further studies are needed to extend these important findings, which if confirmed, may suggest a need to rethink recommendations for LCD in clinical practice.”
Maybe the Supportive Evidence is Outdated
“…there is no conclusive evidence that the degree of weight loss or the duration of reduced weight maintenance are significantly affected by dietary macronutrient quantity beyond effects attributable to caloric intake. Further work is needed.”
Possible Pain Reduction in Patients with Osteoarthritis
“We present evidence suggesting that oxidative stress may be related to functional pain, and lowering it through our [low-carb diet] intervention could provide relief from pain and be an opioid alternative.”
Even Without Weight Loss, a Low-Carb Diet May Help With Metabolic Syndrome
“Consistent with the perspective that MetS [metabolic syndrome] is a pathologic state that manifests as dietary carbohydrate intolerance, these results show that compared with eucaloric high-carbohydrate intake, LC [low-carb]/high-fat diets benefit MetS independent of whole-body or fat mass.”
May Cause Increased Risk of Cancer in Women
“Adherence to LCD [low-carb diet] may be associated with increased odds of breast cancer in postmenopausal women.”
May Improve Cardiovascular Risk Factors
“…low-carbohydrate diets have a beneficial effect on cardiovascular risk factors but that the long-term effects on cardiovascular risk factors require further research.”
May Help Improve Memory in Patients With Early Alzheimer’s Disease
“…preliminary data suggest that the generation of even trace ketones might enhance episodic memory and patient-reported vitality in very early AD.”
May Cause Problems With Micronutrient Levels
“Studies with different designs point towards reductions in several vitamins and minerals, with potential risk of micronutrient inadequacies.”
Partnering the Atkins Diet With Keto Drinks May Improve Results in Epilepsy Treatment
“The addition of a ketogenic supplement to the modified Atkins diet during its initial month appears to be beneficial.”
May Improve Symptoms in Patients With Multiple Sclerosis
“KD MAD [Keto Diet – Modified Atkins Diet] is safe, feasible to study, and well tolerated in subjects with relapsing MS. KD MAD improves fatigue and depression while also promoting weight loss and reducing serologic proinflammatory adipokines.”
Questions and Answers (QA)
What is the Atkins Diet?
The Atkins Diet is a low-carb, high-fat plan that removes the majority of carbohydrates, so your body is forced to burn your fat for energy, so you lose fat and weight.
What do you eat on the Atkins Diet?
You eat the majority of your calories from healthy fats like olive oil, avocados, nuts, and other vegetable oils. Next up are carb-free or low-carb proteins like beef, pork, fish, and shellfish. Organ meats are also allowed, though sparingly. Finally, you’ll eat low-carb, high-nutrition vegetables like kale, collard greens, broccoli, cabbage, and all lettuces.
How does the Atkins Diet work?
You remove the body’s on-going source of carbohydrates, your diet, and you replace those carbs with fat. The body then needs to use fat for energy because there are no carbs to use. Once the body switches over, your fat stores are a significant source of energy.
Is the Atkins Diet healthy?
There is no right or wrong answer to this question. The diet has been used medically for decades with success in fighting conditions like diabetes and epilepsy.
Does the Atkins Diet work?
Yes, based on research, eating a low-carb, high-fat diet can work, temporarily, for weight loss. Weight maintenance success tends to be low.
How many carbs in the Atkins Diet?
There are three Atkins Diet programs – Atkins 20, Atkins 40, and Atkins 100. Atkins 20 allows 20g carbs to start, Atkins 40 allows 40g of carbs, and Atkins 100 allows 100g of carbs. Atkins 100 is suggested only for weight maintenance.
How to start the Atkins Diet
You start the Atkins Diet in phase 0 – preparation. Learn about the diet, read on how to follow the plan, and how to get the best nutrition while cutting out simple and complex carbohydrates. If you have any medical conditions, seek the advice of your healthcare provider before starting any low-carb plan, including the Atkins Diet.
What’s the difference between keto and the Atkins Diet?
The keto diet focuses on higher fat intake than the Atkins Diet. Typically, on keto, the diet allows for 75% of calories, or more, from healthy fats. Macronutrients round out with about 20% of calories from protein and 5% of calories from carbohydrates. With an average 2000-calorie a day diet, 5% of carbohydrates would account for 100g.
How long is the Atkins Diet?
The Atkins Diet isn’t a short-term solution to weight loss. To maintain weight loss after following the active phases – Induction, OWL, and Pre-maintenance, you’ll need to watch carbs regularly. If carb counts creep up, you may notice weight gain, which can be combated by moving back to Phase 1 or 2.
What fruits are allowed on the Atkins Diet?
Some of the best low-carb fruits allowed on the Atkins Diet (check rules for the various phases) include:
How long does it take to lose weight on the Atkins Diet?
Most people start losing water weight within a couple days on the Atkins Diet. The first week or two are often when you lose the most weight in one lump sum due to water weight loss. Further weight loss tends to be more gradual.
Do I have to count calories on the Atkins Diet?
No, you don’t have to count calories on Atkins, but you do have to make sure not to overeat. Eat until you feel satisfied and not beyond. Where once the diet allowed for eating unlimited meats and fats, today, there are guidelines and suggestions to help promote weight loss without overeating.
How many calories should I eat on Atkins?
Calories are not counted on the Atkins Diet. You eat foods from the allowed foods lists in the total amounts allowed or suggested. If you eat until full, the calorie count is supposed to take care of itself – or so says one of the most significant selling points of the low-carb diet.
What foods have no carbs?
Foods that have no carbs include most meats, fish, oils, coffee, water, tea, most herbs, and spices.
What happens when you stop eating carbs?
When you stop eating carbs, and the body needs energy, it turns to the next best source – fat. Since your diet now consists of more significant amounts of healthy fats, the body turns toward those and, when the dietary fats are used up, the fat stores on your body are used. That’s how the Atkins Diet promotes fat loss.