My take on the Atkins Diet...
Many of the principles of the Atkins Diet have revolutionised the way we look at our diets. Many of them have been positive and I have incorporated the ones I like into the programs I have clients follow, so here is a break down of the positives and negatives of the program as I see it:
ON THE NEGATIVE SIDE:
1. Very few people follow it correctly...
Firstly I would say that very few of the people I have encountered who use or have used
Atkins program (full details here)
actually follow the program properly. Is this the case for you? If you've used it did you read the book carefully or did you pick up the ideas briefly from a magazine article or a friend?
My guess is that although about 45 million copies of the various Atkins books have been sold, very few people have read them cover to cover. Have you? If you've tried the diet did you progress past the Induction phase?
Not one of the potential clients I've spoken to in the 1000+ diet consultations I have conducted since 2003 has described to me a careful, structured progression through the 4 phases, and because they get stuck in the induction phase they never change the habits that have caused their weight to build up in the past. Because of this the Atkins program is a short-lived way to drop a few pounds most people rather than a sustainable way of life.
Is that how it was for you?
2. The message that carbs lead to weight gain may cause you to cut fruit and water-rich vegetables from your diet...
Whilst I realize that you can re-introduce some water-rich vegetables and fruit into your diet in the later phases of the program, because of the restriction of the amount of carbs in your diet, I believe it will be difficult to get enough of the cruicial vitamins, minerals and phyto-nutrients which are to be found in fruit and water-rich veg.
Governments around the world encourage us to eat 5 portions of fruit and veg per day precisely because of the positive effect it can have on our health in general and on our hearts in particular, and cutting edge health researchers such as those at UCLA Human Nutrition Laboratory suggest 7 portions are even better than 5.
The message of Atkins is that all carbs make you fat whereas I would suggest you adopt the message that refined carbs ARE bad, but fruit and water-rich veggies are VERY, VERY GOOD.
ON THE POSITIVE SIDE:
3. Cutting refined carbs and refined sugar is the best way to lose weight.
Before Atkins' "Diet Revolution", if you had a weight problem you were told to lose weight by following a high-carb, low-fat diet.
Even though you'd have been encouraged to make your carbs whole grain or vegetable, this didn't work for that many people, because of carbohydrate sensitivity, which ... ironically ... is more common in overweight people and type II diabetics (80+% of whom are overweight).
Following Dr. Atkins' books the medical industry has paid far more attention to the level of carbs in our diets and the possibly harmful effect they have. In particular the amount of sugar you consume if you are an average American or European citizen is now closely under the spotlight, and this is thanks to Dr. Atkins.
My view is that removing refined white or brown sugar completely and drastically reducing the amount of grains in our diets is highly desirable. However I believe Atkins' theory as to why this would be effective (that it moves the body into a state of ketosis) is not the real reason for the effect.
In my view (supported by the
2003 Lancet study
), cutting sugar and grains removes a huge number of empty calories from your diet. And the impact is far greater if you replace these empty calories with more nutritious foods - such as protein, water-rich vegetables and healthy fats. When you eat sugar you kickstart your body's cravings and end up eating more, but when you eat protein, water-rich vegetables and healthy (non-saturated) fats you don't get those cravings and feel full.
4. Emphasis on increasing protein is positive, very positive
Increasing the level of protein in your diet is, in my view, crucial for a couple of reasons and we have this program to thank for bringing this to the attention of the world. However if you look into the results of the
Lancet 2003 study
, you see that the reasons for this again aren't quite as the Diet Revolution books described.
You don't lose weight on an increased protein diet because your body's in a state of ketosis as Dr. Atkins described (whereby the body effectively increases the number of calories it can consume without gaining weight), but because protein sends a stronger signal to the brain that you are full than carbs do.
The longer term reason why you should eat more protein than you may think is that protein helps to support lean muscle weight, and muscle tissue burns calories. The more you have of it the greater your metabolic rate.
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by increasing your lean muscle mass (by the way, you don't have to end up looking like Arnold Schwarzenegger.
However, protein from a vegetable source is more desirable than from an animal source as Atkins suggested. This is because the load on your kidneys is increased by most animal proteins. Vegetable proteins on the other hand place a far lower burden on your kidneys.
The jury is still out on whether increased animal protein diets (and the saturated fat that goes with them) lead to heart problems, but it seems to logical to me that they do. Either way vegetable protein avoids the risk altogether.
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