Mayday Hospital Care

The low-carb Atkins Diet is a favourite among celebrities, but does it work, and is it safe? Find out with our expert Atkins Diet advice.
In this article:

  • Low carb Atkins Diet information: diet plans and banned foods
  • Does the Atkins Diet work, and is it safe?
  • Pros and cons of the Atkins Diet: bad breath, kidney problems, constipation and more

The Atkins Nutritional Approach claims to offer a long-term solution, helping you lose weight and keep it off. It’s a favourite among celebrities, including Jennifer Aniston and Reneé Zellwegger, and it’s credited as one of the major causes of the low-carb dieting craze.

Atkins Diet Information and Advice: The Diet

The diet claims that when you eat too many carbohydrates, your body stores the excess carbs as fat. So by reducing your carb intake, especially simple, refined carbs like flour and sugar, you kick-start your weight loss by tricking your body into burning excess fat instead of carbs – a state called ketosis.

The theory is that you’re eating the foods that your body was designed to eat, so it will work better and burn fat faster. In fact, the Atkins Diet promises to help you lose a massive 15 pounds in the first 2 weeks of dieting.

Atkins Diet Information and Advice: How It Works

The Atkins diet is divided into four phases, so you’ll eat differently depending on your diet goals. The stages include Induction, where the diet is most restrictive to kick start weight loss, and Ongoing Weight Loss, where you continue to lose weight steadily.

Pre-Maintenance, where you find out how much carbohydrate food you can eat without gaining weight. And Lifetime Maintenance, where you continue sticking to the diet to keep the weight off.

As you move through the phases, once you have achieved the desired weight loss, you are slowly allowed to eat slightly more carbs – although still only those found in certain vegetables and tiny amounts of whole grains, brown rice and pasta – and dairy. A common misconception about the Atkins Diet is that followers have a licence to eat as much meat and cheese as they want, but this is untrue, as calories are restricted.

Atkins Diet Information and Advice: Good Foods

• Lean protein – meat, poultry, fish, shellfish
• Vegetables, especially leafy greens – spinach, asparagus, broccoli, green beans
• Salad
• Eggs
• Whole grains
• Fruit, but in moderation and only in the later stages of the diet
• Nuts
• Soya milk
• Atkins brand bars and shakes
• Vitamin and mineral supplements, especially potassium, magnesium, calcium and omega 3s – but no iron.
• A small amount of caffeine – but cutting it out is best, especially in the early stages of the diet
• Eight glasses of water a day
• Fats and oils
• Moderate amounts of dairy and cheese in the later phases of the diet

Atkins Diet Information and Advice: Banned Foods

• Pasta
• Bread
• Rice
• Cereals
• Potatoes
• Fruit (until the later stages of the diet)
• Biscuits, cakes, pastries
• Fizzy Drinks, except low-carb drinks such as Coca-Cola Zero
• Junk food
• Processed food and ready meals

Atkins Diet Information and Advice: Pros

• You’re allowed to eat out, snack and eat regularly as long as you choose the right foods
• You’re encouraged to drink more water, handy for fat loss and to flush out toxins
• It is a good idea to eat mainly whole, unprocessed foods, as the Atkins Diet encourages
• Staying active and regularly doing moderate exercise is an important part of the Atkins Diet plan
• Sticking to carbs that do not have an effect on blood sugar helps keep you feeling full longer
• The goal to change your mindset and keep up healthy eating habits, rather than “going off the diet”, is a positive aim
• In the later phases of the diet, you can find low-carb versions of foods like bread and biscuits, although these are pricey, or eat them in very small amounts
• This is a quick-fix solution if you want to lose weight quickly, with some studies showing that low-carb diets do kick-start initial weight loss more effectively than other diets – but you’ll also pile the pounds back on if you go off the diet, which is likely as it’s so restrictive
• Some studies have shown that a low-carb diet increases your “good” cholesterol levels, possibly lowering your risk of heart disease

Atkins Diet Information and Advice: Cons

• Restricting carbohydrates to the levels suggested by the Atkins Nutritional Approach could be harmful
• The Atkins Diet does not offer enough healthy fibre, especially in the early phases
• Following the Atkins Diet can be time-consuming and expensive, especially if you buy the Atkins brand snack bars and shakes
• The Atkins Diet is known to cause bad breath, dizziness, nausea and tiredness due to the state of ketosis your body goes into, and stomach problems like constipation and diarrhoea due to the lack of fibre in the early phases
• Some experts say that the high protein content of the diet could increase your risk of kidney and liver problems and several types of cancers – and there have been cases of people admitted to hospital with life-threatening complications caused by the Atkins Diet, according to researchers at the New York School of Medicine
• Many nutritionists say that the initial weight loss associated with the Atkins Diet is mainly down to water loss rather than fat loss and that subsequent weight loss can be explained by the lower calorie allowance rather than the restricted carb levels.


Atkins Diet Information and Advice: What the Experts Say

“The rapid initial weight loss occurs because the body is starved of carbohydrates, which leads to depletion of the body’s carbohydrate stores – each gram of carbohydrate is stored with around 3 grams of water, so for each gram of carbohydrate used from your ’stores’, you will lose about 4 grams of weight. The problem here is that once you’ve used all of your carbohydrate stores, you then need to rely on other nutrients for energy.”

She says that consuming low levels of carbohydrates can result in high levels of ’ketones’ (chemicals produced when fat is used as a fuel) and a state called ketosis – but contrary to the Atkins Diet’s claims, this is not a good thing.

“In times of starvation, ketones can be used as a fuel by the brain and heart muscle to keep us alive. However, the presence of ketones in the body leads to an increased loss of body water (and weight!), bad breath, taste changes, nausea, constipation, headaches, fatigue and dizziness,” she says.

“High protein diets pose a risk to health, so much so that the American Heart Association issued a warning about them, stating that there is no proof that these diets help people to lose weight in the long term.”

“Nutritionists agree that many high protein diets such as the Atkins diet fail to provide essential vitamins, minerals and fibre, and they also place excess strain on the kidneys,” she concludes.

“One notable mineral that has shown to be lacking in high protein diets is calcium. In addition to this, ketogenic diets may also lead to increased calcium excretion and reduced bone mineral density – which may increase the risk of developing osteoporosis.  Low carbohydrate diets are certainly not suitable for athletes or people who exercise regularly either.’