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Diet health centre

The Atkins diet

The Atkins diet promise

Can you lose weight by drastically cutting back on carbs like bread, potatoes and sweets, while still eating bacon, mayonnaise and butter?

That's the claim behind Dr Atkins' Diet Revolution. Dr Robert Atkins wrote his book more than 40 years ago. There are now newer versions of the diet, including New Atkins for a New You, and a web site.

Old or new, the Atkins diet turns today's typical carb-heavy diet on its head.

The theory is that when you drastically cut back on carbs, your body turns to your fat stores for fuel. The result is you burn body fat, releasing a by-product called ketones that you'll use for energy.

The plan is not recommended for people with severe kidney disease.

What you can eat and what you can't

The first part of the plan, now called 'Phase 1', but previously the 'induction phase', has these dietary rules:

  • No more than 20g of 'net' carbohydrates per day, mostly from certain vegetables specified on the plan. 'Net' carbs are those specified on the Atkins diet as suitable for the initiation phase.
  • Protein from poultry, fish, eggs, red meat and cheese
  • Freely allowed butter, margarine, cream and vegetable oils
  • No pasta, bread, grains, fruit, starchy vegetables or yoghurt
  • No nuts, seeds or legumes like beans, peas or lentils
  • No caffeine
  • No alcohol
  • A goal of at least 8 x 228mls drinks a day, of which two can be tea or coffee.
  • Calorie-free sweeteners for sugar in drinks etc.

You're meant to follow Phase 1 for at least 2 weeks, or until you're within one stone (6.5kg) of your goal weight. For some, this may mean much longer on this initial phase.

Next comes 'phase 2', when you slowly add more vegetables, and you can include seeds, nuts, legumes, berries and other fruit, wine and other low-carb alcohol, and wholegrains. The initial 'net' carb goal starts at 25g a day, but then additional carbs can be added in 5g portions up to 50g a day.

'Phase 3' allows you to introduce gradually more carbs, up to around 80g a day then 'Phase 4' - or maintenance diet - suggests that up to 100g a day of carbs is permitted to maintain weight stability, along with the recommendations for other foods made initially on the diet.

Newer versions of the diet, including New Atkins for a New You and the Atkins web site, emphasise making good food choices, such as healthy fats.

Level of effort: Medium

You don't have to go to meetings or buy special foods. But you're probably going to have to make some big changes to your diet.

You may notice that your breath has a distinct smell, due to the ketones your body makes. Ketones are made when your body does not have enough dietary carbohydrate to make the fuel necessary for body cells to work properly. Fat - from your diet or from body stores - can be made into ketones which your cells can use as an alternative energy source to glucose. Your breath may have a characteristic 'pear drop' smell, which is the smell of ketone bodies. You may also have headaches and feel irritable.

WebMD Medical Reference

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