Dr. Robert Atkins first introduced his high protein diet in the 1970s with the release of his book “The New Diet Revolution.” In the 1990s, the Atkins diet experienced heightened popularity, with people reporting extraordinary weight loss results.
Food manufacturers responded, creating an all-out low-carb/high-protein diet craze. The atkins diet remains relatively popular in 2020, but questions about its long-term safety and its ability to promote sustainable weight loss have caused it to fall somewhat out of favor.
The Atkins Diet Features
The Atkins diet consists of four phases. The first phase is especially restrictive, lasting for at least two weeks. This phase allows only 20 grams of carbohydrates maximum per day—about the amount in one banana.
Phase two introduces more carbohydrates in the form of fibrous vegetables but requires you to carefully observe how your weight reacts to the introduction of more carbohydrates and to adjust your intake accordingly.
The final two phases focus on maintenance–carbohydrate intake may increase, but only enough to maintain your weight. The diet never recommends much more than 200 g of carbohydrates a day, and these should be in the form of vegetables with small additions of whole grains and fruits. The diet emphasizes the intake of meat products and dairy products without regard for calories or fat content.
Atkins Diet Concerns
The diet works by depleting the body of its primary energy source, glycogen, which is found in carbohydrates. With less glycogen stores, the body turns to other sources of energy, and the diet theorizes that you will burn stored body fat for fuel, creating a condition known as ketosis.
Ketosis is not a normal state of being for the human body and can stress the kidneys, along with other internal organs and cause bad breath. The diet also fails to distinguish between healthy fats, such as mono-unsaturated sources, and saturated fats.
With the liberal intake of high-fat/low-carb foods such as bacon and cheese, a person far exceeds the recommendations for daily caloric intake from fat. Saturated fat, in particular, is a known contributor to heart disease, some cancers and other chronic conditions. The emphasis on protein pushes out other important nutrients that come from fruits and vegetables—especially antioxidants and fiber.
The American Heart Association firmly recommends against high protein diets because of the risk of over-consuming saturated fats. No studies on the long-term effects of following the Atkins diet have been conducted, so it cannot be said for sure if an extended period of ketosis will harm your system. In 2003, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) reported several deaths allegedly tied to following the Atkins diet.
An unscientific survey on the PCRM website also collected reports of many negative side effects caused by following the Atkins diet—specifically a loss of energy, difficulty concentrating, kidney problems and heart-related problems.
Atkins Diet Potential
The Atkins diet does result in weight loss. An editorial in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2005 notes that high protein diets help people feel more full and undoubtedly result in a significant loss of fat. Because the first phase of the Atkins diet is so restrictive, calorie reduction occurs, and you lose weight. The deprivation of carbohydrates also causes a loss of bodily fluids—resulting in the illusion of weight loss. You may stop eating because of the lack of variety in the diet and the inability to eat at functions where many options are carbohydrates.
The Harvard School of Public Health in its healthy eating pyramid notes that eliminating high-calorie food groups from your diet—such as baked goods, white pasta, and potatoes—can help with weight loss.
But after following the Atkins plan, you will likely resume a more mainstream diet, and the weight will return.
Instead of following a restrictive diet with questionable side effects, try consuming as much as 20 to 25 percent of your daily calories from lean protein such as chicken and fish so that you benefit from the satiating power of protein, but still fall under the recommendations of the USDA.
Balancing this lean protein intake with healthy carbohydrates such as fruits, whole grains, and vegetables is recommended by many health organizations and institutions, including the American Heart Association.
the Harvard School of Public Health and the USDA. Take the cue from Atkins and reduce consumption of refined grains and sugars, but avoid eliminating complete food groups so that you may experience weight loss success in the long run.