Atkins Diet (Low-Carb): Benefits, Side Effects and Foods to Eat/Avoid

Atkins Diet (Low-Carb): Benefits, Side Effects and Foods to Eat/Avoid

Atkins Diet (Low-Carb): Benefits, Side Effects and Foods to Eat/Avoid

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                I will try and explain as simply as I can the low-carb diet plans. Also, I will write few things about the most famous of them all, the Atkins Diet. Furthermore, I will write down some benefits, side effects and if you decide to go with it, foods you should eat or avoid.

What is a low-carb diet plan?

                As the name suggests, a low-carb diet, is a diet that limits the ingestion of carbohydrates to a minimum. On the other hand it promotes eating of protein, healthy fats and healthy vegetables.

                People generally use low-carb diets for weight loss. Some low-carb diets may have health benefits beyond weight loss, such as reducing risk factors associated with diabetes and metabolic syndrome.

                In natural form, carbohydrates can be thought of as complex and fibrous such as the carbohydrates found in whole grains and legumes.Opposite of that, they can be less complex such as those found in milk and fruit.

Graphically showing the common foods of naturally occurring carbohydrates

sourceCommon foods of naturally occurring carbohydrates include: Seeds, Nuts, Milk, Grains, Fruits, Vegetables, Legumes (beans, lentils, peas)

                Common foods of naturally occurring carbohydrates include:

  • Seeds
  • Nuts
  • Milk
  • Grains
  • Fruits
  • Vegetables
  • Legumes (beans, lentils, peas)

                    Food manufacturers also add refined carbohydrates to processed foods in the form of flour or sugar. These are generally known as simple carbohydrates. Examples of foods that contain simple carbohydrates are:

  • White breads and pasta
  • Cookies
  • Candy
  • Sugar-sweetened sodas and drinks
  • Cake

                When a carbohydrate is “simple” it refers to mono & disaccharides that are easily absorbed into the bloodstream because of their simple molecular structure. Think milk, fruit, and table sugar. “Complex” carbs on the other hand are polysaccharides and because of their more complex molecular structure can take longer for the body to break down into sugar. Think grains, vegetables, and potatoes.

monosaccharides, disaccharides and polysaccharides

source When a carbohydrate is “simple” it refers to mono and disaccharides. “Complex” carbs on the other hand are polysaccharides

  • Monosaccharide– one sugar molecule, examples include glucose, galactose (in milk), and fructose (in fruit).
  • Disaccharide– two sugar molecules, examples include sucrose (table sugar), lactose (in milk), and maltose (in beer).
  • Polysaccharide– several sugar molecules, examples include starchy foods like pasta, or potatoes, and fiber, which is the indigestible part of a plant that aids in digestion.

                 As carbs are broken down and enter your bloodstream, they increase the amount of glucose (sugar) in your bloodstream. As you eat carbs, your blood sugar level rises, which activates the hormone insulin to suck the excess glucose out of your bloodstream and into your muscles and liver. Any excess glucose that is not used for energy will be stored as fat.

                 Carbohydrates that cause your blood sugar level to rise rapidly, scientists generally consider them bad, or unhealthy carbs. Those that are absorbed slowly and have little effect on blood sugar levels are considered good, or healthy carbs. However, the problem here is that people are not always eating these high carb foods in isolation (nothing but white bread or nothing but corn flakes) and that changes things dramatically. As it turns out, protein, fat and various other nutrients contained in the other foods being eaten at the same time can greatly affect the overall digestion/absorption of the meal that food is a part of.


Atkins Diet

                 The Atkins diet plan promotes itself as a long-term eating plan for weight loss and maintenance that emphasizes eating lean protein and low-starch vegetables. This diet plan forbids simple carbohydrates like flour and sugar.

Picture of Dr. Robert Atkins

source The Atkins diet is the most popular low-carb diet and was promoted by Robert Coleman Atkins. He was an American physician and cardiologist. He became popular because of the “Atkins Nutritional Approach” or “Atkins Diet”.

                The Atkins diet is the most popular low-carb diet and was promoted by Robert Coleman Atkins. He was an American physician and cardiologist. He became popular because of the “Atkins Nutritional Approach” or “Atkins Diet”, which is a popular but controversial way of eating that requires restrictions in carbohydrate consumption.

                During his early years of medical practice, due to stress and poor eating habits, Robert Atkins gained a lot of weight. He decided to go on a diet based on the research of Dr. Alfred W. Pennington, who recommends removing all starch and sugar from meals. The article exploring the study of Pennington’s work, titled “A New Concept in the Treatment of Obesity”, was published in the October 1963 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association by Edgar S. Gordon, Marshall Goldberg, and Grace J. Chosy. Atkins found immediate and lasting success on the plan, and began advertising its effects to his patients. While working as a medical consultant for AT&T, he even managed to help some patients reach their ideal weight with his low-carbohydrate, ketogenic diet program.

                The diet was and still is considered unhealthy by the health and fitness authorities, due to the high saturated fat content. Although some studies suggest that there are not significant evidence for concluding that we can associate dietary fat with and increased risk of CHD (coronary heart disease) and CVD (cardiovascular disease).

                Let me point out that for people who just want to lose some weight without exercise or need to lose it fast because of some medical procedure the Atkins diet may be okay. On the other hand, those of us who hit the gym regularly and besides losing weight want to pack on some muscle or keep the muscle mass we already have, this approach does no good. We all know that in order to gain some muscle we need to eat as much carbohydrates as protein.

                How does it work?

                 As I said before, According to Dr. Atkins and the Atkins diet, carbohydrates cause a spike in blood sugar levels. This causes the body to store fat. By significantly reducing carbohydrate consumption, the Atkins Diet reportedly burns stored fat and regulates blood sugar levels.

                According to Mayo Clinic, there are four phases in this diet plan:

  • Phase 1 (Induction): In this phase, you eat just 20 grams of carbohydrates, mainly from vegetables. “Foundation” vegetables, such as asparagus, broccoli, celery, cucumber, green beans and peppers, should account for 12-15 grams of your daily net carbs. You should eat lean protein at every meal and you do not need to restrict oils and fats, but you cannot have most fruits, sugary baked goods and of course, alcohol. Furthermore, you should stay in this phase at least two weeks, depending on your weight loss goal.
  • Phase 2 (Balancing): In this phase you continue to eat the minimum of 12-15 grams of carbs from foundation vegetables. You can slowly add some nutrient-rich carbs, such as vegetables, berries, nuts and seeds. You should stay in this phase until you are about 10 pounds away from your goal.
  • Phase 3 (Fine tuning): In this phase you can continue to increase the range of foods you eat. Also, you can increase the carbohydrate intake for about 10 grams each week. If you notice that your weight loss starts to slow down or stop, you should cut back. Stay in these phase until you hit your weight loss goal.
  • Phase 4 (Maintenance): You move into this phase when you reach your goal weight, and then you continue this way of eating for life.

                Most people can lose weight on almost any diet plan that restricts calories — at least in the short term. Over the long term, though, studies show that low-carb diets like the Atkins diet are no more effective for weight loss than are standard weight-loss diets and that most people regain the weight they lost regardless of diet plan. Some studies suggest that it is not cutting carbs that leads to weight loss with the Atkins diet. Instead, you may shed pounds because you limit your food choices and you eat less since the extra protein and fat keep you feeling full longer. Also, you lose a lot of water in the first few weeks.

                Foods to Eat:

  • Meat: Chicken, beef, lamb, pork, bacon, ham

    Graphically showing some of the seafoods you should consume in low-carb diets.

    source Salmon, trout, sardines, oysters, crabmeat, shrimp, squid, lobster, herring, tuna, cod, halibut are allowed in the Atkins diet.

  • Fish and Seafood: Salmon, trout, sardines, oysters, crabmeat, shrimp, squid, lobster, herring, tuna, cod, halibut
  • Eggs: Fried, deviled, hard-boiled, omelets, scrambled, poached
  • Low-carb vegetables: Kale, asparagus, spinach, alfalfa sprouts, chicory greens, endive, escarole, arugula, radishes, olives, lettuce, radicchio, artichoke, zucchini, cucumber
  • Nuts and Seeds: Sunflower seeds, macadamia nuts, walnuts, almonds
  • Healthy fats: Extra virgin olive oil, coconut oil, avocados, sunflower oil, canola oil ( do not allow any oils to reach overly high temperatures when cooking)
  • Full-Fat Dairy: Cream, full-fat yogurt, butter, parmesan cheese, cheddar cheese, mozzarella (whole milk) cheese, Swiss cheese, feta cheese

                Foods to Avoid:

  • Sugar: Fruit juices, cakes, candy, soft drinks, ice cream
  • Grains: Rye, Barley, rice, spelt
  • Trans Fats: Usually found in processed foods. French fries are full of trans fats
  • Diet and Low-fat foods: Because they need to retain the taste, they are usually high in sugar
  • High-Carb Vegetables: Carrots, turnips etc.
  • High- Carb Fruits: Pears, bananas, apples, grapes, oranges
  • Starches: Sweet potatoes, potatoes, rice
  • Legumes: Lentils, beans, chickpeas

Benefits of the Atkins Diet

  • Fewer cravings and killing your appetite in a good way. Hunger is the single worst side effect of dieting. One of the biggest benefits of the Atkins diet and other low-carb diets is that eating fats and protein makes you feel full for longer. When people cut carbs, their appetite tends to go down and they often end up eating much fewer calories without trying.
  • Fast weight loss. Low-carb diets have a reputation for producing fast weight loss without feeling hungry or needing to count calories. A 2014 study conducted by the National Institutes of Health found that after comparing the low-carb and low-fat diets in overweight adults,low-carb diets were  more effective for weight loss.
  • Reduced risk of metabolic syndrome and heart disease. The medical science associates the metabolic syndrome with the risk of diabetes and heart disease. Low-carb diets effectively reverse all 5 key symptoms of the metabolic syndrome, a serious condition known to predispose people to heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
  • Reduced blood sugar and helping people with type 2 diabetes. When we eat carbs they are broken down into glucose which enters the bloodstream and elevates the blood sugar levels. Because high blood sugar levels are toxic, the body responds with a hormone called insulin which tells the cells to bring the glucose into them and start burning or storing it. For healthy people, this quick response prevents this sugar spikes from harming us. However, many people have problems with this system. They have, what is called insulin resistance, which means that their cells do not register the insulin and it is harder for the body to bring the sugar into the cells. Low-carb diets are simple solution for this. Because you do not consume a lot of carbs in the first place, you do not create the need for insulin. Those carbs you consume, if they are complex, they enter the bloodstream more slowly.

Side effects of Atkins Diet 

  • Fatigue and Dizziness. As you start dumping water, you will lose minerals such as salt, potassium and magnesium as well. Having insufficient levels of these minerals is making you feel lightheaded or dizzy. Headache is very common during this period, as is feeling tired, lethargic and unmotivated. Nausea is also common. It is also possible to experience confusion or feeling not at all smart. Finally it is common to feel irritable and short tempered (people around you will suffer from this more than you).

    Graphically showing muscle cramp in the leg

    source When you are starting a strict low-carb diet it is common to have muscle cramps, especially in the legs.

  • Muscle cramps. When you are starting a strict low-carb diet it is common to have muscle cramps, especially in the legs. It is usually minor issue but it can get painful sometimes. It occurs because of the loss of minerals, specifically magnesium due to increased urination.
  • Constipation. This is another one of the most common low-carb diet side effects, especially during the first time on a low-carb diet, as your digestive system may need time to adapt. It usually occurs because of dehydration, salt loss, eating too much dairy or too many nuts or possibly magnesium imbalances.
  • Bad breath. On a strict low-carb diet some people experience a characteristic smell on their breath, a fruity smell that often remind people of nail polish remover. The smell is from acetone, a ketone body. This is a sign that your body is burning lots of fat and even converting lots of fat to ketones to fuel the brain. You are a fat-burning machine. This smell can sometimes also turn up as body odor, especially if working out and sweating a lot.
  • Heart Palpitations. Some people may experience heart palpitations or a racing heart when starting a ketogenic diet. It can also happen after having been on it for few weeks or months. One common cause is dehydration and lack of salt. A reduction in the amount of circulating fluid in the blood stream means that the heart will have to pump blood slightly harder or faster to maintain blood pressure.


               I presented the facts for you. Now you decide if you want to use this diet or not. With this type of diets you do not need to go to the gym. That is why I often call them “home diets”. In this case you cannot go to the gym or at least I do not recommend for you to go. There is a good chance that even with low to medium intensity all of the side effects will get more intense within 15-20 minutes of your workout, especially in the first two weeks. There is even a chance of you passing out in the gym (I have seen it).

               As I said above this is a diet for people who do not like working out and only want to lose weight fast. Those of us who love to train and preserve our hard earned muscles, or even pack on more muscle size, will probably never use this diet. For those who want to try this approach, then go ahead and try it, then share your experience with us.

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