The Atkins diet is a plan that limits the intake of carbohydrates, says Colette Heimowitz, director of education and research at Atkins Health & Medical Information Services. In the first phase of the diet (which is for about two weeks) you can eat protein, healthy fats, and 3 cups of veggies. However, you can only eat 20 grams of carbohydrates.
Carb consumption increases as you continue with the plan. It continues with 20-60, then 60-80 and then maintenance is 120 carbs. It really depends upon your metabolism, age, and genetics. But as a general rule the diet focuses more on protein and fats than on carbs.
Since consumption of veggies, seeds and nuts, and low glycemic fruits such as berries are gradually added to the diet, the person ends up eating healthy and balanced meals, notes Heimowitz.
Many people have the perception that eating too many fats will cause cardiovascular health problems. To the contrary, studies have consistently shown that the risk factors go down because the body is burning fat for energy. The good cholesterol goes up and decreases the risk factors for heart disease.
The Atkins diet is the only program that forces the body to burn fat for energy and fat is our backup fuel system. It allows the body to primarily burn fat rather than carbohydrates. In other programs the body will burn some fat but not as aggressively as Atkins, says Heimowitz, making it better than others.
People on Atkins consistently report that their appetites are under control. Ketones are byproducts of fat burning and act as a natural appetite suppressant. In the later phases protein and fat are more satiating, allowing people to feel fuller for longer and avoiding the roller coaster ride of high and low blood sugar from carbs.
Once you lose the desired weight, Heimowitz says you would have arrived at Atkins carbohydrate equilibrium. You can't have a lot of carbs and fat because those are the two fuel systems the body uses. You either burn one or the other but not both. So once you lose the weight you should know how many carbs you can tolerate before gaining the weight back.
Anyone except pregnant women or nursing mothers can do this diet, Heimowitz says. Adolescents, of course, need to be supervised on any weight loss program.
Hemowitz says there are no drawbacks to this diet. Controlling carbohydrate consumption is part of a healthy lifestyle. Unfortunately, she says, not everyone understands the program and the impression people have isn't always correct.