Saturday 5 October 2013

Atkins Diet... Revisited

Atkins Diet or the Ketogenic diet is one of the most popular weight reduction diets. Low carbohydrate, medium protein and a high fat diet are the fundamentals of this particular form of diet. The credit of popularizing the ketogenic diet for weight reduction goes to Dr. Robert Atkins in 1958. He used this diet to resolve his own overweight condition and was successful to a good extent. He then published several books regarding this diet, the first one being “Dr. Atkins' Diet Revolution in 1972 and the latest one being The New Atkins for a New You in 2010. This book covers a lot of new information which had not been previously covered including nutrient rich foods as Atkins diet has often been criticized of being nutrient deficient. The diet regime has been the most controversial one yet the most popular!!!

The scientific basis:

The Atkins diet finds its roots in basic human metabolism. We all are aware that we need energy not only to survive but also is energy required by the human body for carrying out all its vital functions. This energy that the human body uses is derived from the food we eat. The food that we eat is comprised of carbohydrates, proteins and fats which are energy producing and vitamins and mineral which do not provide any energy. So we keep our focus on Carbs, fats and proteins. Out of the three, fat provides the highest energy that is 9 Kcal/ gm; whereas proteins and carbs provide 4 Kcals/ gm. All these nutrients are then broken down to glucose through different metabolic pathways which then helps to release energy.

Of all the three energy providing nutrients, carbs are the first ones to be broken down to glucose to release energy. Also the storage form of carbs lasts for a day only. Fats are usually reserved for later use by the body or during long periods of starvation; proteins are used for muscle development.

The atkins diet is based on restricting the use of carbohydrates so that the fat reserves of the body are mobilized and converted to glucose to provide energy, thus resulting in weight loss. However the process is not all that simple as written and involves a number of hormonal interplay before fat being used as an energy source. Another theory that Atkins Diet is based on is the fact that the glucose, after being used for energy purposes and being stored in muscles and liver as glycogen, the remaining is converted to fat and stored in the body resulting in weight gain. So if fat is being used for energy giving purpose, it will help in weight reduction and will also prevent weight gain from excess carbs.

How it works:

As stated earlier, the Atkins diet is based on carbohydrate restriction. But not all kinds of carbs are restricted. Only the “net carbs”(digestible carbohydrate grams that affect blood sugar less fibre grams)which provide energy upon breakdown are restricted. Carbs in the form of fibre are allowed and can be consumed liberally as fibre is not digested by the human body and excreted as such.

Also the use of a high fat diet helps in retarding the digestion as high fat foods take time to be digested which helps in reducing the hunger sensation. In contrast, a high fibre and a low fat diet is easily digested resulting in increased hunger. Hunger suppression is one of the most common cause of dietary regime failures. However, studies claim that Atkins diet is easy to adhere to.

What to eat:

There are four phases of the dietary regime.

The Atkins diet starts with the Induction phase where the body has to be induced to switch over the energy source from carbs to fats. This procedure requires ketosis (breakdown of fat for energy) to be triggered. This is done by severe carbohydrate restriction for one week. During this period, the net carbohydrate intake is restricted to 20 gms. Foods of choice may be high protein foods like milk, eggs, meats, chicken, tofu which are generally low in carbs.

Use plenty of raw whole vegetables like cucumber, tomatoes, asparagus, spinach, pumpkin, cabbage, capsicum etc. so as to increase the bulk of the diet. Vegetables are generally high in fibre. Cheese is another preferred food. Though many cheeses are not very high in carbs, careful reading of the labels is required as some cheeses may be high in carbs. 3-4 ounces of cheese/ day is acceptable.

Then use liberal fats and oils. Olive oil/ peanut/ canola oil is the preferable choice; however small amounts of sunflower/ safflower/ soybean oil may be used. Choose for regular fat mayonnaise and salad dressings. Peanut butter may be a better choice than the regular butter. Cream may also be used.

Water is considered the best beverage for people following Atkins Diet. Its helpful in removing the extra ketones from the body which are produced as a result of fat metabolism. Also its a zero calorie drink. Decaffeinated coffee, herbal green teas may be used, however, with no sugar in it. Aerated drinks, cola and juice need to be strictly avoided. However, you can use sucralose (splenda) as an artificial sweetener, which will provide you with the sweetness but not the sugar.

Alcoholic drinks are not allowed during this phase.
Most of you will see the maximum weight loss during this period.

The second phase is the ongoing weight loss phase. The Ongoing Weight Loss (OWL) phase of Atkins consists of small, incremental increase in carbohydrate intake, but remaining at levels where weight loss occurs. The target daily carbohydrate intake increases each week by 5 net grams, a very low amount of carbohydrate. The main aim of this phase is to continue the on-going weight loss and has to be continued till the weight is with in 4.5 kg of the target weight.

During the first week of the OWL phase, the vegetables acceptable in the induction phase like asparagus, cauliflower or avocadoes. The next rung to be climbed is the inclusion of cheese, nuts and seeds. This may include peanuts, sesame seeds, almonds, walnuts, cashews etc. The rungs of the carb ladder suggested by The Atkins Diet is given below. However, you can choose from the rungs of the ladder and avoid some like alcohol, which is not necessary.

Increase acceptable vegetables

  • Cheese
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Berries
  • Alcohol
  • Legumes
  • Other fruits
  • Starchy vegetables
  • Whole grains

The third phase is the Pre-Maintenance Phase. Daily net carbohydrates intake is increased again this time by 10 grams each week from the latter groupings, and the key goal in this phase is to find the "Critical Carbohydrate Level for Maintenance". This is the maximum number of carbohydrates a dieter can eat each day without gaining weight. This may well be above the level of carbohydrates that induce ketosis on a testing stick. As a result, it is not necessary to maintain a positive ketosis test long term.

Dieters may be able to add some of the forbidden carbs back into their diet once a week. In this phase, according to the Atkin diet, one's body is beginning to lose the protection of ketosis as one prepares for the last phase which is Lifetime Maintenance.

Dieters are encouraged to continue to drink at least eight glasses of water per day and to increase their daily carbohydrate count by 10 grams each week as long as they continue to lose weight. The Atkins plan recommends that once dieters reach their goal weight and are able to maintain that level for a month or so, then they can increase their daily carb consumption by another 10 grams to see that is possible without gaining. If one gains weight at the level, the plan recommends that one drops back levels of carbohydrates in 10 grams increments. It may take several weeks to find one's individual tipping point.

The fourth and the last phase in the Maintenance Phase. This phase is intended to carry and continue the eating patterns that had been practices well during the previous phases. The favourite carbs can be consumed in small quantities but you will always have to check the quantity of carbs so as to maintain your weight.

Also you have the option of starting it all over again if you feel that you have started to gain weight again!!!!


The Atkins diet has always been surrounded by controversies. The medical circle for nearly three decades and presently argues the disadvantages of a high fat diet. But the promoters of The Atkins diet believe that this kind of a high fat and a low carb diet is better metabolically and provides protection against the metabolic syndrome. They also rule out the possible risk of heart diseases that may occur due to such a high fat consumption.

Also some people believe that such kind of diet is not easy adhere on to and people may loose command soon but the diet also seems to be very popular at the same time.

Nevertheless, whatever are the controversies and misconceptions regarding the Atkins diet, it is very popular and effective for short term weight loss. Long term results would depend on how seriously people are able to follow it and adhere to it.