Nutrition Column – Revisiting the Atkins Diet

People who have successfully lost weight on it believe in it. Doctors and dietitians continue to question it. What is it? The Atkins Diet – perhaps the most hotly debated diet in recent history. And, while Dr. Atkins has passed on, the diet he created is likely to continue to cause a stir.

What’s all the fuss about? The Atkins Diet, a high-protein, high-fat, low-carbohydrate diet, contradicts many of the dietary recommendations issued by professional health organizations, including the American Dietetic Association and the American Heart Association. Yet more and more people continue to try it.

If you’re trying to lose weight and are curious about the Atkins Diet, then take a look at some of the pros and cons.

Initial weight loss: For most people, following the Atkins Diet results in rapid initial weight loss. As a result of significantly lowering carbohydrate intake, the body starts to run low on glucose – the breakdown product of carbohydrate and the body’s preferred energy source. When the glucose supply from food can’t meet the body’s needs, the body turns to its emergency stores of glucose, known as glycogen. For every gram of glycogen the body stores, it also must store three grams of water. Therefore, as the glycogen stores get broken down to meet glucose needs, large amounts of water also are released and excreted, causing noticeable weight loss. Subsequent weight loss can be attributed to the fact that, like most weight-loss plans, the Atkins Diet tends to be lower in calories than the average American diet.

Satiety: Atkins Diet followers commonly report that they do not constantly feel hungry. The Atkins Diet’s heavy reliance on high protein and high fat foods does provide a longer sense of fullness because the body digests fat and protein more slowly than carbohydrate.

Nutrient deficiencies: By restricting carbohydrate-containing foods such as whole grains, fruits and vegetables, the Atkins Diet does not provide the Daily Value for certain vitamins, minerals and fiber. In addition, low carbohydrate diets lack phytochemicals. Phytochemicals are protective plant compounds linked to everything from reducing cancer and heart disease risk to fending off the effects of aging and promoting eye health. Although the Atkins Diet recommends dietary supplements, research has shown that the beneficial effects provided by nutrients in food are not necessarily replicated by supplements.

Links to certain health conditions: Consuming high amounts of protein can put a strain on the kidneys by increasing the amount of acid processed. Processing excess acid not only increases the likelihood that kidney stones will form but also promotes the excretion of calcium which can lead to bone loss. In addition, a diet high in saturated fat and cholesterol and low in fruits, vegetables and whole grains may increase the risk of heart disease and certain cancers if consumed over a long period of time.

Sticking with it: Eliminating or severely restricting specific foods or food groups from the diet can lead to cravings for those foods. Diets that eliminate specific foods are among those with the worst failure rates. In the third phase, the Atkins Diet does slowly add carbohydrates back into the eating plan; however, if people return to their previous eating habits, likely so will the pounds.

Words to the wise: Before embarking on a weight loss diet, it’s important to seek professional help and to develop an individualized strategy that works for your own health and lifestyle issues. In addition to watching calories, getting regular exercise and managing stress are important components of any weight management plan.