Pros and Cons of the Atkins Diet

Atkins diet pros and cons
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The Atkins diet is one of the first very low-carb style diets to hit the mainstream market. It has been around publicly since the early 1970s and has since evolved from there to introduce low-carb food products and online resources.

Today the Atkins diet isn't just low-carb, it offers three phases of carb intake at varying levels, beginning with the lowest at a ketogenic style diet. Whether you are interested in a keto diet or low-carb, the Atkins diet might fit the bill for you. Discovering the pros and cons of any weight loss diet before you give it a try is a good starting place.

Over the years the Atkins diet has advocated for the benefits of a low-carb approach to eating on blood sugar and weight loss. Not only that, they have challenged the idea that fat is bad and in a sense helped drive the crusade against carbs.

At the same time, the Atkins diet promotes nutritious food over calories. But, here's the thing. Carbs are healthy, too. If you skimp out on carbs, you should replace them with something else (protein and fats). If you are not managing your calorie intake to some degree, weight loss is unlikely.

The Atkins diet asks you to aim for a healthy calorie range. But, it is also important to listen to your fullness cues. The Atkins diet asks you to aim for a healthy calorie range.

It's also important to... listen to your fullness cues,While eating low-carb may help you shed some body fat and improve your blood sugar numbers, overeating protein and fats in the interim won't help.

Pros
  • Helps with weight management

  • Requires no calorie counting

  • Contains hearty eating plan

  • Provides clearly-defined guidelines

  • Focuses on fiber-rich carbs

  • Offers multiple resources

Cons
  • Requires reduced fruit intake and grain intake

  • Produces side effects

  • Restricts options

  • Becomes hard to maintain

  • Requires counting net carbs

Pros

While going low-carb is not for everyone, there are some pros of going on the Atkins diet. Since Dr. Atkins' first diet book was published in 1972, there have been hundreds of studies documenting the benefits of a low-carb lifestyle on weight loss and heart health. Here are some of the potential benefits of the Atkins diet.

Weight Management

You can expect your clothes to fit better within the first few days on the Atkins diet. Initially, your body will shed excess water weight when you reduce carbohydrates. The Atkins diet and other ketogenic diets claim that once stored carbs have been used for energy, your body learns to tap into fat to use as fuel. Once the excess water is lost, you can expect much of the remaining weight loss to (hopefully) come from body fat.

Ketogenic-style diets—including the Atkins diet—have been successful tools for weight loss. In fact, countless studies have confirmed what most suspect—that a very low-carb diet does promote weight loss.

However, the weight loss you can expect from the Atkins diet is not superior to other diets that permit carbs. Though there are studies that show Atkins as a better diet for weight loss, much of the research suggests that after 12 months there's no difference. And when ketogenic diets (such as Atkins) were compared to calorie-restricted diets for long-term weight loss, there was no difference in pounds shed.

Ketogenic style diets including the Atkins diet are successful tools for rapid weight loss. However, research comparing very-low-carb and very-low-fat diets shows no difference in weight loss, especially beyond the 12-month mark.

No Calorie Counting

There is no calorie counting on the Atkins diet plan. The only nutrient you need to pay attention to is carbs, specifically net carbs. Net carbs are the total number of carbs minus fiber and sugar alcohols. On the Atkins plan, you are restricting your carbs and limiting your net carbs to a specific number that increases as you advance to the next phase.

Because this plan does not require calorie counting, it could be a good option for people who find calorie counting restrictive and triggering. Plus, while you do need to maintain a calorie deficit for weight loss, counting calories can indirectly cause you to eat more. For many people who find tracking food and counting calories as monotonous and restrictive, the Atkins diet may work for you.

Hearty Eating Plan

People get excited about being able to enjoy a burger or steak on their diet. Plus, a diet packed with protein and fat, like the Atkins diet, can be filling.

The Atkins diet (classic plan) asks you to fill your plate with protein, dietary fats, and tons of veggie. Both protein and fat take longer to digest than carbohydrates. This provides a longer feeling of fullness and satiety allowing you to eat fewer calories overall. High fiber vegetables provide bulk to meals helping to fill your belly so you feel full and satisfied.

This study found that those following an Atkins diet had lower overall caloric intakes than their usual diet despite not having to measure portions or count calories.

It is important to remember that overeating any food, though, can prevent weight loss. While the Atkins plans encourage eating high fat foods and protein, the latest version provides portion size suggestions to help prevent people from overeating.

Clearly-Defined Guidelines

Many people thrive with structure and clear guidelines. The Atkins diet maps out each phase with simple instructions and colored icons that let you know which foods you can include in your diet based on the phase you are following.

There are even complete food lists for each phase of the program so there is no guessing what you can or cannot eat. The Atkins website also will help you choose a phase based on your weight loss goals and lifestyle. From there you will have access to sample meal plans, recipes, shopping lists, a carb-counter and meal tracker app, and a discussion board for support.

Healthy Carbs

There are no good or bad carbs, but instead simple carbs (white bread and cookies) and complex (whole grains, legumes. beans, fruits, and vegetables). The Atkins diet helps you understand the difference while encouraging you to eat more complex carbs, especially as you graduate toward phases that allow for greater carbohydrate intake.

Improving your knowledge of nutrition is a valuable asset you can take with you for the rest of your life. Knowing which carbohydrates offer more nutritious benefits and how less nutritious choices work in the body will help you make better food choices for the long haul. Having a better understanding of types of carbohydrates, you'll be able to make better food choices even beyond your time on the Atkins diet plan.

Widely-Available Resources

The Atkins plan is a well-known program with resources readily available online. Their website provides food lists, recipes, and other guides, while their books and guides are available for purchase online and in your local bookstore.

If you like using food products on your diet plan, Atkins has plenty of snack bars and meal replacements to choose from available online and at your local grocery store. Plus, foods marketed as keto will fit well on the Atkins plan.

Cons

The restrictive aspects of the Atkins diet can be a major pitfall for dieters. One too many carbs could send them right off the plan. Here are some of the potential cons to the Atkins diet.

Reduced Fruit and Grain Intake

The classic phase of the Atkins diet plan prohibits fruits and grains. If you are someone who loves these foods it may be difficult to adhere to this type of meal plan. Plus, fruits and whole grains provide important amounts of fiber, vitamins, and nutrients that help move food and waste through the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. Without adequate fiber intake, you could become constipated.

The USDA recommends that you consume about 2 cups per day of fruit to get the important vitamins and nutrients that they provide. As you advance through the phases of the Atkins diet you're allowed to include some grains and fruits back into your diet. Remember that increasing your carb intake will take you out of ketosis. So if you're not ready to advance, you'll have to restrict these foods.

The USDA recommends that adults consume 45% to 65% of their daily calories from carbohydrates. 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.

Potential Side Effects

Ketogenic diets including the Atkins diet have some not-so-exciting side effects. Once your body switches from using carbohydrates as fuel to ketones, the side effects kick in. Initially, you can expect to feel pretty fatigued because carbs are no longer available to provide your body with energy.

And if you begin feeling under the weather, that's just the "keto flu" or your body trying to adapt to the change in your fuel source. The symptoms you can expect include fatigue, nausea, headaches, and brain fog.

If that's not bad enough, being in ketosis causes a fruity odor to your breath. And the lack of fiber could lead to constipation. Some dieters have even reported hair loss or thinning, most likely due to vitamin and mineral deficiencies that occur due to a lack of produce in the diet. Other common side effects include hunger, low mood, and irritability.

Restricts Options

The best diet is the one you can maintain for a long period of time. People often have a difficult time staying on diets like the Atkins diet and other similar eating plans because they are restrictive in nature. Cutting out entire food groups can pose a problem for your social life or family gatherings.

And feeling deprived or restricted, like you cannot eat or have something, will only make you crave that food more. One study determined that food deprivation increases the reward sensitivity of actually eating that food. That means the foods you have been restricting end up being even better than you had imagined, making it more likely you will overeat.

Additional research indicates that when you take the scarcity out of food, (or offer it more often), you are less likely to overeat said food and end up eating fewer calories overall at that meal.

Hard to Maintain

Adherence to the diet is the most important aspect for success and reaching your weight management goals. If you cannot stay on a diet, it will not work for you.

Because carbs are a major part of cultural American life, there is a big chance you are going to have to make difficult decisions if you eat out frequently or socialize. Not surprisingly, studies have found that adherence to Atkins is low.

Requires Counting Net Carbs

Learning to count net carbs can be challenging and tedious. Though you do not have to count calories, it's not enough to just count the total carbs you're eating in a day. When dining out or at social gatherings, it could be difficult to count net carbs, especially if you're not sure what's in the food you're eating.

Plus, the definition of "net carb" is not clearly defined by the Food and Drug Administration. That means the way foods are marketed is not regulated and you could be eating something with more carbs than you think.

13 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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Additional Reading

By Shoshana Pritzker RD, CDN, CSSD, CISSN
Shoshana Pritzker RD, CDN is a Sports and Pediatric Dietitian, the owner of Nutrition by Shoshana, and is the author of "Carb Cycling for Weight Loss." She's been writing and creating content in the health, nutrition, and fitness space for over 15 years and is regularly featured in Oxygen Magazine, JennyCraig.com, and more.