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The Atkins Diet - How it Works and the Dangers of Ketosis

Updated on January 16, 2012

According to the Atkins website, the theory behind their program is that, when you eat too many carbohydrates, your body burns some of those carbs for energy and stores the excess carbs as fat. When you eat fewer carbs - especially white flour and sugar, your body begins burning fat as its primary fuel source.

The way the program works is that, in the first week of the diet, you'll reduce your carbohydrate intake to 20 Net Carbs per day, and eat lean protein such as chicken, fish, lean cuts of beef, eggs and more. You can have your choice of good fats (olive oil, etc.), a variety of vegetables and sweet Atkins snacks.

The second phase start with 25 grams of net carbs per day, and each week, daily net carbs are increased by 5 grams. What you’ll eat includes lean protein (chicken, turkey, lean beef, fish, shellfish, lamb, pork, veal, eggs) a variety of vegetable proteins, foods with natural fats (olive oil, safflower oil, butter, avocado) and vegetables, berries, nuts and seeds. You just have to remember to stick with your daily Net Carb count each week.

Foods that are rich in carbohydrates including bread, pasta, cereals, rice, fruits (except berries), juices, starchy vegetables, sweets, snack chips and dairy foods are restricted during the first and ongoing weight loss phases.

They encourage this diet until you reach your ideal weight, and recommend keeping up with the diet and staying within five lbs of your ideal weight.

The program doesn’t allow people with different lifestyles to use it, such as vegetarians, because a lot of is based on consuming meat. Some vegetarians do consume fish, but if they followed this diet, all they would be eating would basically be fish and vegetables, and they’d have no variety.

The diet does provide variety to people who consume meat, because they can pick from chicken, turkey, beef, lamb, pork, etc. but it doesn’t offer some of the variety that other diets do, for example, the only sweets on the diet consist of Atkins shakes and bars, so in order to strictly follow this diet, you’d have to purchase their products.

The program states that they provide weight maintenance after the goal is reached, but basically their theory is to stick with the diet constantly so that you always stay with a five pound radius of your ideal weight. From what I’ve heard from people who have done this diet, you can lose weight fast, but you can also gain it back fast.

The Atkins plan doesn’t require a registration fee, as all the meals and recipes are right on their website. However, their snacks (the Atkins shakes and bars) do require a mandatory purchase, and they don’t offer any alternate snack options on their site.

The Atkins program also doesn’t require any meetings, but they do sell books and meals in stores for further information on their diet plan, and they also have interactive tools on their website where you can start a custom meal plan, keep track of your carbs, view their complete recipes and meal plans, start a profile, set your goals and register for their online courses for free. Basically the plan is all up to you to keep yourself motivated.

Per studies shown by Northwestern University, dieters are advised to restrict their intake of carbohydrates, which can cause ketosis, a condition that promotes breakdown of body fat for fuel. They also state that Atkins does not define the rate of expected weight loss for each phase of the program, and that most of the weight loss during the initial first week is due to water loss.

The Atkins Diet is deficient in certain nutrients such as vitamin D, calcium and folate due to the elimination of virtually all fruits and grains, most vegetable and dairy products, and it is also does not include a lot of fiber and other health-promoting phytochemicals that is derived from carbohydrate-containing fruits, vegetables, whole grains and other plant foods.

Carol Johnson, chair and professor in the Department of Nutrition at the School of Applied Arts and Sciences also mentioned the risks of ketosis. “The downside of severely low carbohydrate intake is that dieters go into what’s called ketosis, or the inefficiency of the body to oxidize fat,” Johnston said. Research has uncovered that the ketogenic diet may increase bone loss because of an increase in acid in the body and not enough intake of alkalizing minerals, such as potassium, to neutralize this effect.

The body also needs carbohydrates for energy, so for people who are consuming an extremely low amount of carbohydrates and only receiving energy from protein, exercise is harming their bodies more than it’s helping. Without adequate amounts of carbohydrates, muscles rapidly fatigue during exercise.

There have been case stories reported by Fox News that talk about Atkins causing ketosis in people that have followed the diet. According to Fox, The Atkins diet calls for restricting carbohydrates to achieve weight loss, and many people who follow the diet actually eat large amounts of protein and fat. Doctors from New York University wrote in The Lancet journal of a 40-year-old woman who developed a dangerous condition called ketosis, a dangerous buildup of acids called ketones in the blood which can lead to patients falling into a coma.

According to said Professor Klaus-Dieter Lessnau, who led the team from the New York University School of Medicine, "Our patient had an underlying ketosis caused by the Atkins diet. This problem may become more recognized because this diet is becoming increasingly popular worldwide," Other doctors have also said that the main problem of high protein diets is in the strain they put on kidneys and the risk of renal failure.

My impression of this diet is a negative one, mainly because of the harm it can cause to your health, and also because it doesn’t seem like a highly effective diet. Not only are you depriving your body of carbohydrates that it needs for energy, but you’re also putting your body at risk by not consuming the vitamins and minerals in carbs that your body needs in order to function.

It also doesn’t seem like an effective diet, because normally diets that cause you to lose weight so fast also cause you to gain the weight back equally as fast. According to the New York Times, “The first five to seven pounds lost on Atkins are not fat but water, released by the body when it gets little or no starch or sugar from food. So as soon as you are unable to resist that bun with your burger or summer's succulent sweet corn, a cooling ice cream cone, thirst-quenching watermelon or a bag of fries, those lost pounds are likely to come bounding back.”

In addition to the health risks, it also seems like a difficult program to follow because when dieters crave carbohydrates such as pizza and sweets, they are restricted on the Atkins eating plan. If I had a weight problem, I couldn’t follow this diet, even without the health risks, because of all the strict eating restrictions.



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    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Having read Dr. Atkins book and being on the Atkins diet for some time now, I have noticed a lot of misunderstanding in this topic. For starters, during the first stage of the Atkins diet, yes a lot of foods are restricted, but after the initial induction a lot of foods are also introduced back into the diet.

      Like any diet or eating plan it is important to do research and know what it is that you are putting into your body and what roles each thing plays ie. as a vegaterian there is a high risk of iron and protien defficiency if you don't know what you are doing.

      As for calcium, there are so many things on the Atkins diet that are allowed sources of this, such as cheese, cream, broccoli, celery, squash etc. Not only that but, recent studies have shown that adult bodies do not absorb and obtain much calcium from milk in the first place, so it is not a big deal.

      When it comes to cravings of sugar or carbs, the majority of carborhydrates consumed on the Atkins diet derive from vegetables and other natural, unprocessed sources. And after a short while, of not eating sugar, like any harmful addictive substance becomes less controlling and demanding on your body and those 'cravings' no longer exist. There is no benefit in refined sugars nor much, if any, nutritional value in unhealthy snack foods. The Atkins diet promotes a healthy balanced diet. It is common sense on most part on making your own balanced diet. The risks you speak of are as similar to the risks on any diet/eating plan.

      Being educated on what you put into your body is vital for balance and well being. As for the website containing few recipes and it being "mandatory" to buy Atkins shakes and snacks is complete bullshit. Do a little more research. Once you know the foundations of the diet you can enjoy a variety of healthy, guilt free snacks. Just because they have not done all of the work for you does not mean it is not affective. If anything it teaches people to learn about what they eat before they eat it, like everyone should. I'd say I'd rather learn from a diet on what is necessary for my nutritional balance and weight loss than to be on a diet that has all the work done for me therefore not really knowing what it is that I'm doing or how it is working and going back to a clueless way of eating after "completing" a diet.

      It is not Dr. Atkins fault that society as a whole is stupid and slowly killing itself with fast foods and lack of nutritional information. Food has become a luxury rather than a necessity. It's like refilling your car with different types of petrol every few ks because it is there and available - not because you need it.


    • KimmiS profile image


      7 years ago from Vancouver, Canada

      Although I agree that the Atkin's diet is harmful to health. I'd have to disagree about your food restriction worries. It's OK to slip up on any healthy diet once in a while, but if you start eating the foods you mentioned (burgers, fries, ice cream, pizza and sweets) on any regular basis - you will gain weight.

      The goal of any diet, whatever you call it, should be to change your habits of eating those types of foods.

      Also, about the bone loss theory. It's important to remember, that on an acidic diet (ex. the standard American diet (SAD) and even more so the Atkins or Dukan diets) our bodies need extra buffers to keep the pH of our GI tract alkaline. Potassium may be one buffer, but calcium is another. When we don't have enough (ORGANIC) calcium - ie calcium from plant (not milk) sources... we risk losing calcium stores from our bones.

      So it IS possible that the Atkins diet could cause this.

    • Spartan Training profile image

      Spartan Training 

      7 years ago from 985 W. Chandler Heights Rd. Suite 12 Chandler AZ. 85248

      "Research has uncovered that the ketogenic diet may increase bone loss because of an increase in acid in the body and not enough intake of alkalizing minerals, such as potassium, to neutralize this effect."

      this is incorrect and a myth that is promoted simply through not taking the time to research the potassium content of food...almost everything we eat is too high in postssium...with the exception of orange-roughy which by the way has been fished out of supply and green beans...potassium intek should be around 1.5 grams per day...sodium should be around 3.5 grams a day...


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