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We all know that every possible diet, in addition to favorable weight loss effects, also has some possible side effects which should be taken into consideration before starting.

Steak with sauce, eggs, and bacon; cheddar cheese omelets, smooth avocado cream soup…Although it may sound funny, these rich foods are allowed as part of the controversial diet described in Dr. Atkins' New Diet Revolution, a phenomenal best seller, and several follow-up books.

The famous Atkins diet promises that a person will not only lose weight, will also be on the road to better heart health and memory function, as well as certain other wellness benefits. What is the main characteristic of this diet? Well, the diet is based on the theory that overweight people eat too many carbohydrates. However, nothing lasts forever and various factors have led to its decreasing success. That’s why the Atkins company, est. 1989, filed for bankruptcy in July of 2005. 

What You Can Eat

Many people have started this diet because it allows you to eat food that many dieters have only dreamed about. The Atkins diet has several dietary rules. Some of the most important are: 
 
  • Limits the amount of food you can eat 
  • Restricts the following food: refined sugar, milk, white rice, and white flour 
  • Allows you to eat meat, eggs, cheese, and more 
  • Claims to reduce your appetite in the process 
  • On the Atkins diet, a person is eating almost pure protein and fat because almost all kinds of meat are allowed, as well as cheese
  • Carbs are restricted! Unlike all other kinds of food, carbs are restricted, but not totally! You are allowed to ingest about 20 grams of net carbs per day. During the diet, the carbs are allowed in the form of fiber-rich foods, but you do not return to eating refined sugar milk, white rice, white bread, white potatoes, or pasta.
  • The diet does allow for adding fruits, vegetables, and whole-grain foods, but only after some time. 

Phases of the Atkins diet

The Atkins diet has four main phases, during which the body’s metabolism is slowly adjusting to the new eating habits.

1. Induction

The Induction phase is the first, the most important, and the most restrictive phase of the Atkins Nutritional Approach. Its role is to lead the body to the state of ketosis as quickly as possible. Carbohydrate intake is limited to 20 net grams per day. This could be very difficult to obtain, although the allowed foods include a liberal amount of most meats, a good bit of cheese and cream, two cups of salad, and one cup of other vegetables. Caffeine and alcoholic beverages are also not allowed. Most users report losses up to 3 or 4 kg per week. 

2. Ongoing weight loss

The Ongoing Weight Loss phase of Atkins is about increasing in carbohydrate intake, but the goal is to remain at levels where weight loss still occurs. The target daily carbohydrate intake increases each week by 5 grams. The phase lasts until weight is within 4.5 kg of the target weight, and then we move to the pre-maintenance phase.

3. Pre-maintenance

Carbohydrate intake is increased again, and the key goal in this phase is to find that critical carbohydrate level which represents the maximum number of carbohydrates a person can eat each day without gaining weight. 

4. Lifetime maintenance

The final and longest phase. This phase is intended to carry on the habits acquired in the previous phases, and avoid the common habits that people usually return to. 

How does the Atkins Diet work?

The mechanism is simple and effective - it’s all about restricting carbohydrates. It has been proven that by restricting these food compounds drastically, the body goes into a state of ketosis, which means it burns its own fat for fuel. What happens then? Well, a person in ketosis is getting energy from ketones, little carbon fragments, fuel created by the breakdown of fat stores. Of course, when someone is in ketosis, he or she will feel less hungry.
 
This really does sound perfect, but the problem is that ketosis can also cause a variety of unpleasant effects. Most common ketosis side effects are unusual breath odor and constipation. As a result of all this, the body changes from a carbohydrate-burning engine into a fat-burning engine, which leads to weight loss. 
 
Dr. Atkins also claimed that if the body keeps on making too much insulin, it may become less responsive to insulin and eventually may develop a metabolic disorder - diabetes. According to this theory, this first step in an unhealthy metabolic path should lead the body to the early stages of diabetes. But this doesn't happen because a body in ketosis burns up excess fat, and in time returns to normal metabolic function. 

Long-term benefits are questionable

Unfortunately, the long term benefits of the Atkins diet are anything but dependable. Although recent studies show promising results, researchers still did not demonstrate the long-term benefits or risks. The two official studies done by the New England Journal of Medicine showed carbohydrate-restricted diet produced weight loss and improved lipid profiles, Of course, all this has been compared to typical dieters who followed calorie-restricted, low-fat diets. 

Atkins diet pros and cons

No one can argue against the fact that the Atkins Diet is probably the most successful diet of the last few years in terms of books and products sold. However, there are many advantages and disadvantages that could be linked to this diet, and the most common are listed below. 

Benefits 

  • There is no need to cut out the food the most of us like, such as meat, cream, cheese, and other high-fat food. Everyone agrees that this is major plus for this diet! 
  • Because a person can eat as much as they like of the permitted food types, they don't get hungry at all. 
  • Not all carbohydrates count in the total allowance. Those rich in dietary fiber can be eaten more freely because fiber is not digested. 
  • It is argued that a low-carb diet is more natural for the human body because grains in the form of wheat, rice, etc., only became a regular part of our diet 10,000 years ago, so our bodies have not had time to evolve to cope with them satisfactorily.
  • Some researches indicate that people with diabetes type 2 have shown better insulin function. That’s why the Atkins diet is very preferable for those kinds of patients. 

Disadvantages

  • Some studies have proven that both types of diet, Atkins and low calorie, had a large drop-out rate, so it seems the apparent choice of food on the Atkins Diet is not sufficient to keep people on it.
  • The metabolic processes involved in using fat for energy instead of carbohydrates can lead to increased uric acid, which can cause kidney problems and strong headaches.
  • Although more weight was lost at the end of 6 months on the Atkins Diet than on almost every low calorie diet in the market, after one year, the difference is definitely insignificant.
  • There can be low amounts of dietary fiber on the Atkins Diet leading to constipation and chronic bowel disease. Fibers are crucial and preferable for the normal functioning of the gastrointestinal system. 
  • Some experts believe that the high amounts of animal fat eaten on the Atkins Diet can have an adverse effect on cholesterol levels and can lead to cardiac disease. That’s why heart disease patients should avoid it.

Potential health risks

Almost every diet carries some potential health risk, and the risk of low-carbohydrate high-protein dieting is probably not from burning fat, but rather from unhealthy eating habits. It is logical to assume that high fat is not heart-healthy. Researchers have come to the conclusion that high protein diets stress the kidneys. Experts are saying that the kidneys work harder to process proteins broken down in dieters on a high-protein diet.

A quick review of Atkins pros and cons

Pros:

  1. Many men prefer this diet thanks to hearty foods like steaks and burgers being regular menu items.
  2. Many people have lost a lot of weight on this plan. It's not unusual for Atkins dieters to peel off around 80 pounds.
  3. Some Atkins dieters see improvements in cholesterol levels despite the diet's high fat content.

Cons:

  1. The diet does not provide enough energy in the form of carbohydrate, so the body is forced to go into ketosis. This causes a great burden on the kidneys. There is not a lot of research available on the long-term effects of this. Long-term effects on the heart have also not been studied.
  2. You'll miss out on vital nutrients supplied by fruits, vegetables, and whole grains which could lead to vitamin deficiencies. Low-carb diets can also adversely affect calcium levels in the body
  3. Most Atkins dieters experience constipation, halitosis, and sometimes, dehydration.

Potential complications can include osteoporosis, hypotension, liver and kidney problems, and possible increase in heart disease risk.