What is the Atkins Diet?

What is the Atkins Diet?
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The Atkins Diet: Everything You Need to Know (Literally)

Written by Kris Gunnars, BSc on June 4, 2017

The Atkins diet is a low-carbohydrate diet, usually recommended for weight loss.

Proponents of this diet claim that you can lose weight eating as much protein and fat as you want, as long as you avoid foods high in carbs.

In the past 12 years, over 20 studies have shown that low-carb diets are effective for weight loss (without calorie counting), and can lead to various health improvements.

The Atkins diet was originally promoted by a physician named Dr. Robert C. Atkins, who wrote a best-selling book about the diet in 1972.

Since then, the Atkins diet has been popular all over the world and many more books have been written about it.

The diet was originally considered unhealthy and demonized by the mainstream health authorities, mostly due to the high saturated fat content. However, new studies have shown that saturated fat is harmless.

Since then, the diet has been studied thoroughly and shown to lead to more weight loss than low-fat diets, and greater improvements in blood sugar, HDL (the “good” cholesterol), triglycerides and other health markers .

Despite being high in fat, it does not raise LDL (the “bad”) cholesterol on average, although this does happen in a subset of individuals.

The main reason low-carb diets are so effective for weight loss, is that when people reduce carbohydrate intake and eat more protein, their appetite goes down and they end up automatically eating fewer calories without having to think about it.

The Atkins Diet is a 4-Phase Plan

The Atkins diet is split into 4 different phases:

  1. Phase 1 (Induction): Under 20 grams of carbs per day for 2 weeks. Eat high-fat, high-protein, with low-carb vegetables like leafy greens. This kick-starts the weight loss.
  2. Phase 2 (Balancing): Slowly add more nuts, low-carb vegetables and small amounts of fruit back to your diet.
  3. Phase 3 (Fine-Tuning): When you are very close to your goal weight, add more carbs to your diet until weight loss slows down.
  4. Phase 4 (Maintenance): Here you can eat as many healthy carbs as your body can tolerate without regaining weight.

However, these phases are a bit complicated and may not be necessary. You should be able to lose weight and keep it off as long as you stick to the meal plan below.

Some people choose to skip the induction phase altogether and include plenty of vegetables and fruit from the start. This approach can be very effective as well.

Others prefer to just stay in the induction phase indefinitely. This is also known as a very low-carb ketogenic diet (keto).

Foods to Avoid

You should avoid these foods on the Atkins diet:

  • Sugar: Soft drinks, fruit juices, cakes, candy, ice cream, etc.
  • Grains: Wheat, spelt, rye, barley, rice.
  • Vegetable Oils: Soybean oil, corn oil, cottonseed oil, canola oil and a few others.
  • Trans Fats: Usually found in processed foods with the word “hydrogenated” on the ingredients list.
  • “Diet” and “Low-Fat” Foods: These are usually very high in sugar.
  • High-Carb Vegetables: Carrots, turnips, etc (induction only).
  • High-Carb Fruits: Bananas, apples, oranges, pears, grapes (induction only).
  • Starches: Potatoes, sweet potatoes (induction only).
  • Legumes: Lentils, beans, chickpeas, etc (induction only).

Foods to Eat

You should base your diet around these healthy foods.

  • Meats: Beef, pork, lamb, chicken, bacon and others.
  • Fatty Fish and Seafood: Salmon, trout, sardines, etc.
  • Eggs: The healthiest eggs are Omega-3 enriched or pastured.
  • Low-Carb Vegetables: Kale, spinach, broccoli, asparagus and others.
  • Full-Fat Dairy: Butter, cheese, cream, full-fat yoghurt.
  • Nuts and Seeds: Almonds, macadamia nuts, walnuts, sunflower seeds, etc.
  • Healthy Fats: Extra virgin olive oil, coconut oil, avocados and avocado oil.

As long as you base your meals around a fatty protein source with vegetables or nuts and some healthy fats, then you will lose weight. It’s that simple.

After Induction is Over, You Can Slowly Add Back Healthier Carbs

Despite what you may have heard, the Atkins diet is actually quite flexible.

It is only during the 2-week induction phase that you need to minimize your intake of healthier carb sources.

After induction is over, you can slowly add back healthier carbs such as higher carb vegetables, fruits, berries, potatoes, legumes and healthier grains like oats and rice.

However, chances are that you will need to stay moderately low-carb for life, even if you reach your weight loss goals.

If you start eating the same old foods again in the same amounts as before, you will gain back the weight. This is true of any weight loss diet.