How Effective is the Atkins Diet for Weight Loss?
Low carbohydrate diets are not new; one of the earliest was described in 1863’s “Letter on Corpulence Addressed to the Public”, published by English undertaker William Banting.
Numerous variations on the low carb theme have appeared over the years, such as the Stillman, Airforce and Drinking Man’s Diets right up to contemporary spin-offs such as the Paleolithic, Zone and South Beach Diets.
The Atkins Program is probably the most well known example of the low carb approach to weight loss. It was introduced in 1972 with the publication of “Dr. Atkins Diet Revolution” by Robert Atkins.
The diet was considered controversial in the beginning, stressing as it did higher intakes of protein and fat than were considered safe at that time.
Subsequent research and evolving nutritional awareness, however, have validated and popularized the Atkins. Updated versions of his program have consistently topped bestseller charts and “Dr. Atkins New Diet Revolution” ranks as one of the 50 bestselling books of all time, with 5 years’ tenure on the New York Times list.
The objective of the Atkins program is to restrict carbohydrates, which break down into glucose in the body.
Fewer carbs/less glucose results in less insulin production, insulin being the hormone that regulates the glucose, causing excess amounts to be taken from the blood and stored in the liver, muscle and fat tissues as glycogen. However, if blood glucose levels fall below a certain point, the body must metabolize what has been stored to provide necessary energy.
The focus on meeting nutritional needs with protein, fat and fiber while minimizing carbohydrate consumption means more stable levels of both glucose and energy.
Fewer fluctuations in glucose and insulin result in better appetite control and fewer cravings.
What carbohydrates are consumed on the plan are in the form of high fiber vegetables which break down quite slowly, meaning you absorb less and feel full longer.
The first phase of Atkins, called “Induction” radically reduces carbohydrate intake, essentially changing body chemistry so that it switches over to burning fats rather than carbs as a primary energy source.
Once the body’s glycogen stores are exhausted, it enters a metabolic state called ketosis, wherein lipids (the molecules in cell membranes that store fats, vitamins, etc.) are broken down to fatty acids and ketones for fuel.
This is the most restrictive phase of the program, in which participants track carb consumption to a daily maximum of 20 grams, 12 to 15 of which should be sourced from vegetables.
The subsequent 3 phases of the program gradually incorporate a wider variety of foods and increase the allowance of carbohydrates while weight loss continues.
This makes for a varied and flexible program that’s easier to stay with than other more restrictive diets. By the time participants reach Phase 4, they have learned to balance the types of food and the quantity of carbs necessary to maintain a goal weight.
Low carb diets may ultimately prove to have a role in disease prevention as well.
A “ketogenic” diet proved effective in controlling paediatric epilepsy as far back as the 1920’s.
Today, researchers are exploring potential applications in diabetes control, HDL cholesterol reduction, regulation of blood pressure and lowering triglyceride levels.