The Atkins diet is a low-carb diet, usually recommended for weight loss.Proponents of this diet claim that you can lose weight while eating as much protein and fat as you want, as long as you avoid foods high in carbs.
In the past 12 or so years, over 20 studies have shown that low-carb diets without the need for calorie counting are effective for weight loss and can lead to various health improvements.
The Atkins diet was originally promoted by the physician Dr. Robert C. Atkins, who wrote a best-selling book about it in 1972.
Since then, the Atkins diet has been popular all over the world with many more books having been written.
The diet was originally considered unhealthy and demonized by the mainstream health authorities, mostly due to its high saturated fat content. However, new studies suggest that saturated fat is harmless (1, 2).
Since then, the diet has been studied thoroughly and shown to lead to more weight loss and greater improvements in blood sugar, “good” HDL cholesterol, triglycerides and other health markers than low-fat diets (3, 4).
Despite being high in fat, it does not raise “bad” LDL cholesterol on average, though this does happen in a subset of individuals (5).
The main reason why low-carb diets are so effective for weight loss is that a reduction in carbs and increased protein intake lead to reduced appetite, making you eat fewer calories without having to think about it (6, 7).
You can read more about the health benefits of low-carb diets in this article.
The Atkins diet is split into 4 different phases:
- Phase 1 (induction): Under 20 grams of carbs per day for 2 weeks. Eat high-fat, high-protein, with low-carb vegetables like leafy greens. This kick-starts the weight loss.
- Phase 2 (balancing): Slowly add more nuts, low-carb vegetables and small amounts of fruit back to your diet.
- Phase 3 (fine-tuning): When you’re very close to your goal weight, add more carbs to your diet until weight loss slows down.
- Phase 4 (maintenance): Here you can eat as many healthy carbs as your body can tolerate without regaining weight.
However, these phases are a bit complicated and may not be necessary. You should be able to lose weight and keep it off as long as you stick to the meal plan below.
Some people choose to skip the induction phase altogether and include plenty of vegetables and fruit from the start. This approach can be very effective as well.
Others prefer to just stay in the induction phase indefinitely. This is also known as a very low-carb ketogenic diet (keto).
Foods to Avoid
You should avoid these foods on the Atkins diet:
- Sugar: Soft drinks, fruit juices, cakes, candy, ice cream, etc.
- Grains: Wheat, spelt, rye, barley, rice.
- Vegetable oils: Soybean oil, corn oil, cottonseed oil, canola oil and a few others.
- Trans fats: Usually found in processed foods with the word “hydrogenated” on the ingredients list.
- “Diet” and “low-fat” foods: These are usually very high in sugar.
- High-carb vegetables: Carrots, turnips, etc (induction only).
- High-carb fruits: Bananas, apples, oranges, pears, grapes (induction only).
- Starches: Potatoes, sweet potatoes (induction only).
- Legumes: Lentils, beans, chickpeas, etc. (induction only).
You should base your diet around these healthy foods.
- Meats: Beef, pork, lamb, chicken, bacon and others.
- Fatty fish and seafood: Salmon, trout, sardines, etc.
- Eggs: The healthiest eggs are omega-3 enriched or pastured.
- Low-carb vegetables: Kale, spinach, broccoli, asparagus and others.
- Full-fat dairy: Butter, cheese, cream, full-fat yogurt.
- Nuts and seeds: Almonds, macadamia nuts, walnuts, sunflower seeds, etc.
- Healthy fats: Extra virgin olive oil, coconut oil, avocados and avocado oil.
As long as you base your meals around a fatty protein source with vegetables or nuts and some healthy fats, you will lose weight. It’s that simple.
Here are some drinks that are acceptable on the Atkins diet.
- Water: As always, water should be your go-to beverage.
- Coffee: Many studies show that coffee is high in antioxidants and quite healthy.
- Green tea: A very healthy beverage.
Alcohol is also fine in small amounts. Stick to dry wines with no added sugars and avoid high-carb drinks like beer.