The Atkins diet involves restricting your carbohydrate intake and focusing on eating protein and fat. The origins of the low-carb diet trend have been attributed to the Atkins diet.

A low-carb diet is viewed to be an effective method of controlling type 2 diabetes and stabilising blood glucose levels.

What is the Atkins diet?

The Atkins diet was created in 1972 by Dr. Robert C. Atkins, a cardiologist. The diet aims for people to lose weight and keep it off as part of a long-term plan.

There are four phases of the Atkins diet, which are designed to be following in a particular order.

  • Phase One: Induction – Your daily carbohydrate intake is just 20 grams per day, which will mainly come from vegetables. This usually lasts for a minumum of two weeks
  • Phase Two: Balancing – Nutrient-rich carbs can be slowly added back to your diet, such as nuts, berries and seeds. Typically lasts until you’re within 10 pounds of your target weight
  • Phase Three: Pre-maintenance – 10 grams of carbs can be added to your diet each week, including starchy vegetables and whole grains, but must be eased back if weight loss stops. Finishes when you reach your target weight
  • Phase Four: Lifetime maintenance – Can be entered upon reaching goal weight. You continue to maintain the success achieved in the previous phases

Over time, the Atkins diet has started to promote incorporating exercise as part of one’s lifestyle, as well as the use of vitamins of supplements to account for lost nutrients during the early phases in the diet.

The Atkins diet and diabetes

For people with diabetes, it is important to consult your doctor before embarking on the Atkins diet so it can be done safely.

As you heavily restrict carbohydrate intake, especially during the first phase, this can lead to raised ketone levels. While there is little reported evidence of a link between the Atkins diet and diabetic ketoacidosis, the Atkins diet is not recommended for people with diabetes that are insulin-dependent on account of the lack of evidence showing the diet to be safe.

An additional point to consider for those dependent on insulin is that raised ketone levels could lead to confusion in interpreting blood ketone tests. Depending on what medication you take, you may therefore need to adjust your doses.

Upon its creation, the Atkins diet was important in establishing how type 2 diabetes could be managed through carb consumption.

At the time, diabetes was often treated with a high-carb, low-fat diet, but the diet highlighted that obesity and type 2 diabetes were caused by a diet high in starchy carbohydrates and sugar.

Controlling one’s carb intake could therefore avoid imbalances in blood glucose levels, while also reducing weight gain and the risk of cardiovascular problems.

What carbohydrates can I eat?

The Atkins diet has been criticised for labelling all carbohydrates as bad, but as evidenced in the different phases of the diet, controlling carbohydrate intake is the most important aspect.

White flour and other refined carbohydrates, such as pastries and cakes, are not allowed in most stages of the Atkins diet.

Portion control is not required, nor is calorie counting, but you must track your carbohydrate intake to stick to the requirements of the diet.

Gradually, the diet allows more carbohydrate to be consumed. You will generally find that low-carb vegetables, fruits, oats and potatoes can be eaten in the latter stages.

What are the benefits of the Atkins diet?

Weight loss is a primary benefit, with the diet reporting that 15 pounds can be lost in the first two weeks of phase one, although this is largely through lost water.

Losing weight will also help in reducing your blood pressure and risk of cardiovascular problems.

A 2013 study published in the British Journal of Nutrition concluded that long-term weight loss from the Atkins diet was more effective than through a conventional low-fat diet.

Criticisms of the Atkins Diet

Ketosis

A criticism of the Atkins diet is that eating high levels of protein and fat can result in ketosis, which is when the body breaks down stored fat due to a lack of energy.

Remaining in prolonged periods of ketosis has been scrutinised in the medical profession. It is believed that having overly high ketone levels can cause damage to the kidneys and the liver.

However, there is discussion among experts as to what levels of ketones are dangerous.

Side effects

Certain side effects can be experienced in the early stages of the Atkins diet, including:

  • Constipation
  • Nausea
  • Headache
  • Fatigue
  • Diarrhea

If you experience any of these side effects to a severe degree, you should consult your doctor who may advise you to come off the diet.

Who can follow the Atkins diet?

You may choose to follow the Atkins diet to help you lose weight, or to restrict certain carbohydrates from your diet.

However, the diet is not suitable if you have severe kidney disease, are pregnant or breastfeeding.

You should see your doctor before you start the Atkins diet, in case you have a medical condition which needs to be considered beforehand.