Monday, July 8, 2013

Part 2: What About the Atkins Diet?

The Atkins diet was founded in 1963 by Dr. Robert Atkins. There is a huge controversy over this man's lifestyle and associated dietary recommendations. But it remains one of the most popular and widely known diets in the U.S. Atkins himself became overweight and sought a solution to be healthier. He followed the recommendations of a study by Alfred Pennington to remove all starches and sugars from the diet and increase fat and protein consumption. The Atkins diet became very popular in the late 60s and lasts to this day. This is evidenced by looking at food packages in the present time -- you often see "low-carb" as an advertising message. The controversy is that Atkins himself suffered a heart attack in 2002. He claimed that his heart attack was not the result of eating a high-fat, high-protein diet, but was instead the result of a virus. (I'm sorry, but really? Really? A virus?! As Ms. Kay would say...Oh paaalease!) Somehow, Atkins got his doctors to confirm this by saying that Atkins' diet and his cardiomyopathy (heart disease) were unrelated. He died a year later (April 2003) at age 72 after he slipped on some ice and had a severe head trauma. After his death, the popularity of the Atkins diet decreased some, such that the company filed for bankruptcy in 2005. In 2007, the company was bought out and marketed low-carb snack foods. In 2010, it was bought out again by a different company.

 photo atkins_zpsb6440b4c.jpg

Summary of Diet Recommendations:
The diet itself has changed over time in its recommendations. Initially, Atkins recommended freely consuming all meats, dairy, and fats, but to eliminate carbs and sugars, and limit fruits and vegetables. After his death, the company recommended limiting the amount of red meat and saturated fat that you consume, but did not give specifics about how much is okay. The pyramid above is from the current Atkins company. But the main point to make is that the Atkins diet is a low-carb, high-protein, high-fat diet.

What's Good?
Short Answer: Nothing! (Except for those seeking to fulfill the Dr. John McDougall adage "People love to hear good news about their bad habits.")

Longer Answer: The only good thing I can identify is that the current (pictured above) Atkins diet recommends vegetables as the second most important food group, and that they recommend fruit too. They also do not recommend consuming added sugar or trans fats.

What's Bad?
The original Atkins diet (freely eat all meat, dairy, and fat) is extremely misguided and will most certainly lead to poor health, as evidenced by the creator himself. I do not believe for one second that Atkins' heart disease was completely unrelated to his diet. In my opinion, if you are pushing a "healthy diet" to the general public, then you should be the picture of good health yourself. He clearly was not. There have been several examples of individuals following the Atkins diet who ended up being hospitalized for something major going wrong (visit the website linked below).

All the Atkins diet versions are virtually the opposite of what I recommend. By removing whole grains and starches (the main source of good carbohydrates that your body needs for energy), and replacing those foods with high amounts of animal protein, you are asking for trouble. Sure, people may start off losing weight due to the fewer calories consumed by eliminating whole grains and the body is forced to convert protein and fat into energy, but calorie-restriction does not work in the long run and is an unnecessary burden for the consumer. I used to count calories. It's a pain. I was miserable. It doesn't work. I didn't lose weight and keep the weight off.

I would much rather eat healthy, fiber-rich foods to my stomach's content and lose weight (and keep it off) than hassle with counting calories. Several studies have shown that the people following this diet do not end up keeping the weight off in the long-term. You see, "good carbs" are high in fiber, which is what fills you up. By eliminating this food group entirely, you are primarily consuming zero-fiber foods, which cause you to consume more than you would with a high-fiber diet.

Fun Facts about Fiber
Fiber is only found in plant foods!
High-fiber foods fill the stomach and produce a sense of fullness
Soluble fiber lowers cholesterol
Insoluble fiber regulates bowel movements
Animal products contain ZERO fiber!
(that includes meat, fish, eggs, milk, and cheese)

Moving on from weight-loss...Even if you were to follow this diet in the long-term, it would not be healthy for you to do so. High-fat, high-protein diets promote heart disease, high cholesterol, osteoporosis, diabetes, and cancer.

Plus, I repeat again that consuming high amounts of protein puts strain on your liver and kidneys. Humans do not need more protein than 5% of daily caloric intake. Animal sources of protein are the worst way to obtain protein too, because of the high-fat content, cholesterol, and the acid load it puts on the human body (which leads to poor bone health because your body leeches calcium from your OWN bones to neutralize the pH).

If you are interested in reading more details about scientifically-based studies that show the dangers of eating a low-carb, high-protein diet, please visit Atkins Diet Alert.

Bottom Line:
What average American doesn't want to hear that you can eat all the steak and butter you want and lose weight? The problem is that this is simply not the truth. A healthy, plant-based diet that is rich in complex carbohydrates, fiber, and nutrients will lead to optimal health and weight. Low-carb, high-protein diets will only lead to poor health and short-term, temporary weight-loss.

Next -- Part 3: What About the South Beach Diet? 
Previous -- Part 1: What About the Standard American Diet?
Introduction to the 10-Part Series


  1. Thank you for detailed information on the Atkins Diet. Many issues that you talked about, in regards to the Atkins Diet, I had not considered. Great Information, Good Post!

  2. Thank you, I'm glad you found the information helpful!