Can you believe that the diet aimed at weight loss can include bacon, butter, cream, and steak? Sounds like easy? However, what if, at the same time, your carbs intake must be minimal, meaning you cannot eat grains, bread, pasta, some fruits and vegetables, and legumes? All of these describe the Atkins diet.
The Atkins diet is an eating plan that limits carbohydrates and focuses on fats and proteins. It aims at weight loss and consists of several phases directed toward weight loss and maintenance.
This nutritional approach is offered as a healthy lifelong eating plan that can help you lose weight, keep it off, and prevent related health problems like high blood pressure, metabolic syndrome, diabetes, and heart diseases. However, more research is needed to confirm the health benefits of the Atkins diet.
The Atkins diet consists of four phases: induction, balancing, fine-tuning, and maintenance. However, not everybody needs to go through all four of them.
Phase 1 – Induction
The induction phase lasts about two weeks, depending on your weight loss. It is the most strict phase of the Atkins diet, which requires you to eliminate almost all carbohydrates from your diet, living only 20 grams of net carbs per day. You can get most of them (12-15 grams) from vegetables like broccoli, asparagus, cucumber, celery, peppers, and green beans.
You can eat proteins like eggs, poultry, meat, fish, seafood, and cheese at every meal. In addition, you don’t limit fats and oils in your diet.
You should drink at least eight glasses of water per day.
Phase 2 – Balancing
It is recommended to stay in a balancing phase of the Atkins diet until you are about 10 pounds (4.5 kg) from your goal weight.
During the second phase of the Atkins diet, you continue to get 12-15 grams of net carbs from low-carb vegetables while adding some nutrient-dense carbs like some previously limited vegetables, berries, seeds, and nuts.
Phase 3 – Pre-maintenance
This phase lasts until you reach your goal weight. During pre-maintenance, you continue to reintroduce some foods forbidden in previous phases. These include whole grains, fruits, and starchy vegetables. In addition, you can increase your carbs intake by 10 grams each week. However, if you notice that your weight loss stops, cut carbohydrates back.
Phase 4 – Lifetime maintenance
When you reach your goal weight, you move to the maintenance phase and keep it for life.
People with kidney problems should not try this diet. In addition, pregnant women should avoid trying this diet. Breastfeeding women should discuss the Atkins diet with the healthcare provider and skip the first phase (induction).
People with diabetes, prediabetes or other health conditions should consult the doctor before beginning the Atkins diet. In addition, people with high cholesterol and those at risk of heart disease should monitor their blood cholesterol levels for any unfavorable changes when following the Atkins diet.
How to avoid possible nutritional deficiencies
Since the Atkins diet dramatically restricts carbohydrate intake, people following it may experience deficiencies in some essential nutrients, including thiamin (vitamin B-1), biotin (vitamin B-7), folate (vitamin B-9), vitamin C, vitamin D, vitamin E, magnesium, iron, calcium, and fiber. Include some of the following foods in your diet to ensure that you fulfill your body’s requirements for the listed nutrients:
- thiamin (vitamin B-1): fish, mussels, pork, yogurt, sunflower seeds, flaxseeds, green beans, asparagus;
- biotin (vitamin B-7): egg yolk, salmon, pork, beef liver, avocado, broccoli;
- folate (vitamin B-9): beef liver, eggs, asparagus, broccoli, leafy greens, avocado;
- vitamin C: bell peppers, broccoli, kale, parsley;
- vitamin D: egg yolk, cod liver oil, salmon, sardines, herring, swordfish, canned tuna, beef liver, fortified milk;
- vitamin E: sunflower seeds, sunflower oil, safflower oil, soybean oil, avocado, salmon, rainbow trout, bell pepper, asparagus, almonds;
- magnesium: dark chocolate, salmon, mackerel, avocado, flaxseeds, chia seeds, pumpkin seeds;
- iron: organ meats, red meat, turkey, canned tuna, shellfish, pumpkin seeds, broccoli, dark chocolate;
- calcium: milk, yogurt, cheese, salmon, sardines, chia seeds, poppy seeds, sesame seeds, fortified foods;
- fiber: avocado, broccoli, green peas, chia seeds, apples, berries, nuts;
It may be challenging to ensure you get enough of the listed nutrients. An alternative way is supplement intake. Talk with your healthcare provider to discuss specific supplements you may need to fulfill your body’s requirements.
Tips on improving your dieting experience
Following the Atkins diet, you will need to control your carbohydrate intake by tracking net carbs. But what does it mean?
Net carbs, also called digestible carbs, are carbohydrates absorbed by our bodies. When you eat carbs containing food, enzymes in your small intestine break down most carbohydrates into individual sugar units. These units are then absorbed into the bloodstream, changing blood sugar levels, and used for energy.
However, some carbohydrates cannot be broken down into individual units and absorbed. This group of carbs includes fiber and sugar alcohols. As a result, these molecules cannot be used as an energy source and don’t change blood glucose.
To calculate net carbohydrates in the food, take its total carbs and subtract the amount of fiber and sugar alcohols.
However, it should be noted that not all sugar alcohols are free of digestible carbs. Thus, you need to pay attention to the type of sugar alcohols used in the food. For example, erythritol, xylitol, mannitol, and lactitol are not considered net carbs. On the other hand, maltitol, sorbitol, isomalt, and glycerin partially count toward net carbs. It means that each gram of these molecules contains about a half of gram of digestible carbs. So, when you count net carbs, you should add the number of these sugar alcohols divided by 2 to your count.
Therefore, the overall formula for calculating net carbs in the food is:
Net carbs = total carbs – fiber – sugar alcohols + (maltitol (or sorbitol, or isomalt, or glycerin)/ 2)
The Atkins diet is an eating program that can help you lose weight. However, this diet is not for everyone since many people find it overly restrictive. In addition, this nutritional approach may be costly because high-quality produce and meat are pretty expensive.
It is worth mentioning that there are some risks associated with the Atkins diet. They include insufficiency in some nutrients, feeling sick, electrolyte imbalance, low blood sugar, kidney problems, increased LDL cholesterol, and a higher risk of cardiovascular diseases. In addition, the restrictiveness of the Atkins diet may lead to disordered relationships with food.
Talk with a doctor or registered dietitian before starting the Atkins diet to ensure that there are no contraindications for you. In addition, be attentive to how you are feeling while following this eating pattern and address any concerns to a healthcare provider.