Pros and Cons of the Atkins Diet

Atkins diet pros and cons
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The Atkins diet plan has gone through many changes over the years. The strict eating plan has many unique factors that you should consider before you attempt to follow it. Atkins provides several benefits that may make it the perfect diet for some. But the drawbacks might rule it out for others. If you're considering using this diet to lose weight for good, be sure that you evaluate all of Atkins pros and cons before you start the diet.

Pros

  • Weight loss

  • No calorie counting

  • Hearty eating plan

  • Clearly defined guidelines

  • Focus on fiber-rich carbs

  • Multiple resources available

Cons

  • Reduced fruit and grain intake

  • Possible side effects

  • Restrictive

  • Hard to maintain

  • Must count net carbs

Pros

If you are interested in the Atkins diet, there are substantial studies documenting the benefits of going on the low-carb diet. Many of these published studies have supported the use of the program for weight loss and other health benefits.

Weight Loss

The Atkins diet has a long history of successful weight loss. Many people have lost weight on this plan and the program has been studied in numerous clinical trials. But if you are considering Atkins for weight loss or weight maintenance, you'll find that there is a range of studies with conflicting results.

A study published in JAMA compared the Atkins diet to LEARN (Lifestyle, Exercise, Attitudes, Relationships, and Nutrition, a program that is low in fat and high in carbohydrate based on national guidelines), Zone, and Ornish diets in overweight pre-menopausal women. Researchers found that those following Atkins lost more weight and experienced more favorable overall metabolic effects at 12 months.

Another analysis of studies published in the journal Nutrients compared Atkins to 19 other diets without specific calories targets. The researchers determined that of the diets evaluated, the Atkins diet showed the most evidence in producing clinically meaningful short-term and long-term weight loss.

However, there is also substantial research comparing high fat ketogenic diets (such as Atkins) to diets where calories are restricted. Several of these studies have show that there is no difference between caloric restriction and carb restriction for long-term weight loss. Additionally, while there is some support for low-carb, higher fat diets, there are still medical experts who question whether or not the diet is healthy or effective for the long-term.

Results from a large nutritional study were reported in 2019 at both the American Society of Nutrition and the American Diabetes Association conferences. The findings suggest that there isn't necessarily a single diet that meets the needs of every person trying to lose weight because each body responds differently. These findings support research published in other scientific journals suggesting that the best diet for weight loss is the diet you can stick to for the long-term.

Some studies have demonstrated that Atkins and other ketogenic diets are effective for weight loss. However, other studies have concluded that cutting carbs is no more effective than cutting calories, especially over the long-term. This has led many researchers to suggest that the best eating and lifestyle program for weight loss and weight maintenance is the plan you can stick to for life.

No Calorie Counting

There is growing frustration over the use of calorie counting for weight loss and weight maintenance. Even though most nutrition experts acknowledge the importance of consuming the right number of calories each day, they acknowledge that trying to track and monitor your intake every day can be tedious and may feel restrictive.

On the Atkins plan, you watch your net carb intake but there is no need to count or restrict calories. For many people, this feature of the Atkins plan is most appealing.

Hearty Eating Plan

Some people like the fact that you can eat more rich and satisfying food on the Atkins diet plan. For example, some people prefer this diet because hearty foods like steaks and burgers can stay on their menu.

Protein-rich foods and foods with more fat tend to be satiating. When you feel satisfied after eating, you're likely to delay your next meal or snack and may consume fewer calories overall as a result. In fact, some studies have shown that total caloric intake is lower on the Atkins plan than on other plans with higher carbohydrate intake.

It is important to note, however, that the most current versions of Atkins provide recommendations for portion size. For example, during Phase 1, the recommended daily intake for added fat is just 2–4 tablespoons. So you can't expect to be successful on the Atkins plan if you eat large portions of fatty meat, butter, and cheese.

Clearly Defined Guidelines

Those who prefer a structured approach to eating will enjoy Atkins. Each phase of the program has a specific time or weight goal that is clearly explained.

For example, Phase 1 lasts for two weeks (in most situations). Phase 2 lasts until you are 10 pounds from your goal weight. Phase 3 lasts until have been comfortably at your goal weight for four weeks. Extensive lists of acceptable foods are available for each stage and portion sizes for each food category are clearly defined.

Focus on Healthy Carbs

The Atkins diet eliminates refined carbohydrates such as baked goods (like cake and white bread) and encourages the intake of healthy carbohydrates (such as green vegetables and fiber-rich berries), especially in the later stages of the plan. So you learn the difference between good carbs and bad carbs.

For many people, simply reducing the intake of refined grains and sugary foods provides noticeable benefits right away. Drinking water instead of soda and replacing starchy side dishes with foundation vegetables is likely to help you have steady energy levels throughout the day. In addition, you'll lose water weight almost immediately if you cut back on your carb intake.

You're likely to notice weight loss quickly when you cut back on carbohydrates. Changes on the scale in the first week or two are likely to be the result of water loss rather than fat loss.

Resources Widely Available

You'll find most of what you need to follow the Atkins plan online. Food lists and other guides are provided on their website. You'll also find Atkins books and guides in bookstores and online.

If you don't like to prepare your own food all the time, Atkins snack bars and other meal replacements are conveniently available in many markets and discount stores.

Atkins Diet Cons

While some dieters enjoy the diet's benefits, others struggle to stick to Atkins' strict eating plan.

Reduced Fruit and Grain Intake

If you're a person who loves fruit, you might struggle on the Atkins plan. Even if you don't love fruit, the USDA recommends that you consume about two cups per day to get the important vitamins and nutrients that they provide.

Eventually, you can add some fruit but in the early stages of the diet, you'll need to avoid healthy foods like berries, bananas, apple, and citrus fruits in order to get into ketosis. Once you are closer to your goal weight, you may be able to consume small amounts of low-carb fruits (such as raspberries) but some people aren't able to stay in ketosis when they consume any fruit.

Grain intake is another concern on the Atkins diet. On the Atkins diet grain-based foods are restricted—especially in the early phases.

The USDA recommends that adults consume 45 percent to 65 percent of your daily calories from carbohydrate. Many people eat grain-based foods to meet this guideline.

Eating whole grains can also help you to meet the fiber guideline which ranges from about 22 grams to 33 grams per day for adult men and women.

Possible Side Effects

If you are a typical American eater before you start the diet, you'll significantly decrease your intake of carbs. For many dieters, this causes fatigue as your body adjusts to using fat as a source of fuel. Some people even refer to the adaption period as the "keto flu" because it is not uncommon to also experience brain fog and headaches.

Some people who have started Atkins report experiencing constipation, halitosis, and sometimes, dehydration as a result of the dietary changes in the eating plan. According to health experts at Harvard, other common side effects include hunger, low mood, and irritability.

Restrictive

Very low-carb diets such as Atkins can be hard to follow because they require you to make too many changes from the start.

Most people follow a standard American diet before switching to Atkins. This traditional eating style is high in starchy meals and foods or beverages with added sugars. While the standard American diet isn't necessarily healthy, making major changes in a short period of time can backfire.

In some cases, severe restriction can lead to food binges, guilt, and weight gain. For this reason, many nutrition experts recommend making small changes over a longer period of time rather than undertaking a complete diet overhaul.

Hard to Maintain

Separation from common foods is another challenge for those switching to the Atkins diet. If you socialize or eat out on a regular basis, you can expect to be surrounded by foods that are restricted on this program such as chips, bread, and pasta.

Not surprisingly, studies have found that adherence to Atkins is low. However, adherence is any diet is challenging and remains one of the primary roadblocks to successful long-term weight loss.

Counting Net Carbs

While you don't count calories on the Atkins plan, you do count net carbs. For some people, counting net carbs is just as complicated and tedious as counting calories, particularly when you eat out. Calorie counts are getting more common on restaurant menus. But those that list calories don't always list carb counts and very few list fiber or sugar alcohol content—making it impossible to get your net carb number.

Also, there is disagreement in the nutrition community about whether or not the idea of counting net carbs is helpful for weight loss. The impact of sugar alcohols on metabolism isn't fully understood. Also, the definition of "net carb" is not clearly defined by the FDA. So you may eat a food that advertises a very low net carb amount and it may have more of an effect on your metabolism than you realize.

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