Atkins diet

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Louise Hay

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The Atkins diet, after garnering much acclaim and criticism in the United States, has recently landed in Europe and in your country as well, where it has caused quite a stir. It is basically a low-carbohydrate diet, which aims to satisfy energy demands mainly through fats and proteins.

The Atkins diet proposes, for example, to start the day with fried eggs and bacon, eat a piece of cheese in the middle of the morning and a nice steak with vegetables for lunch.

It is therefore a real tragedy for lovers of the Mediterranean diet and for those who, as we will see in a few lines, care about their health.

The Atkins diet

American cardiologist Robert C. Atkins devised the eponymous diet in the 70s to prevent and control diabetes mellitus. Recently, driven by a massive promotional campaign (it would have been adopted by numerous Hollywood stars such as Jennifer Aniston and Renee Zellweger), the Atkins diet has risen to prominence thanks to its real effectiveness in promoting weight loss.

Why does it work?

Similar in many respects to the metabolic diet, the Atkins diet aims to keep insulin levels constant, transforming the body into a real "fat burning" machine.

By severely limiting carbohydrate intake, this diet forces the body to use lipids and proteins as an alternative energy source. Such a dietary strategy promotes rapid weight loss, given that:

  • the sense of satiety increases with consequent spontaneous reduction of food intake
  • increases daily energy expenditure (thanks to the high protein intake)
  • stimulates the production of anabolic hormones which, combined with a power physical activity (e.g. bodybuilding), favor the increase of muscle mass and, consequently, raise the basal metabolic rate

Stages of the Diet

The Atkins diet consists of four distinct phases.

Induction phase

The first period is called INDUCTION and must be followed for at least two weeks. During this first phase, the diet imposes a strong limitation of the carbohydrate intake, which must not exceed 20 grams per day (note that in 100 grams of pasta there are about 75 grams of carbohydrates). Therefore, all foods rich in carbohydrates, both simple and complex, should be avoided (rice, pasta and cereals in general, sweets, snacks, potatoes, sugary drinks, jams, most of the fruit and even various vegetables). On the other hand, steaks, fish, cheeses, eggs, vegetables with a low glycemic index and various condiments can be eaten without particular restrictions (only the hydrogenated fats present in margarines should be avoided).

According to the Atkins diet, this first phase is used to accustom the body to burn fat more effectively and to stabilize blood sugar.

Continuation of Weight Loss

In this second phase, the Atkins diet provides for a slight increase in carbohydrate intake. In particular, the amount of carbohydrates present in the diet must be increased by 5 grams per day, until "the critical level of carbohydrates necessary for weight loss" is reached.

To understand when to stop the increase in carbohydrate intake, it is important to keep the balance needle under control. When weight loss stops, the Atkins diet recommends that you go back, decreasing your carbohydrate intake by 5 grams per day, until you achieve moderate weight loss (between 400 and 1400 grams per week).

This level varies from person to person and in any case much lower than what we are used to taking with the traditional Mediterranean diet (about 250 grams of carbohydrates per day).

The small carbohydrate increases (the famous 5 g per day) must be satisfied by slightly increasing the intake of vegetables, unsweetened fruit and dried fruit. Even in this second phase, the Atkins diet absolutely forbids pasta, bread, cereals, sweets and derivatives.


When you are close to reaching your ideal or desired weight you enter the third phase. During this time, the Atkins diet recommends increasing your carbohydrate intake by 10 grams per week. The purpose of this third phase is to reduce weight loss to no more than 500 grams per week, preparing the body for the fourth and final phase of maintenance.


At this point the subject has now learned to know his own body and, thanks to the previous experimentation phase, he is aware of the quantity of carbohydrates necessary to maintain his body weight in a certain range of normality. Even in this phase, the majority of people are forced to limit their carbohydrate intake to between 60 and 90 grams per day. This constraint makes the Atkins diet hardly compatible with normal Mediterranean eating habits.

Proposed Supplements

Aware of the reduced intake of fiber, vitamins and minerals resulting from the reduced consumption of cereals and some types of fruit, supporters of the Atkins diet recommend supplementing your menu with multivitamins, antioxidants and bran

Dangers of the Atkins Diet

Carbohydrates are essential for the body, which needs at least 120 grams of glucose every day to ensure the proper functioning of the central nervous system.

By respecting the canons of the Atkins diet, the body's carbohydrate reserves are exhausted after a couple of days. By burning fat primarily, our body is forced to produce ketone bodies, given the inability of the brain to use fat for energy purposes.

These substances (see ketogenic diet) lower the blood pH (make the blood more acidic) and are responsible for symptoms such as nausea, headache, fatigue and, in extreme cases, coma.

Others possible side effects attributable to the Atkins diet include constipation, osteoporosis (a high protein intake increases the elimination of calcium in the urine *), insomnia, hypercholesterolemia, colon cancer and cardiovascular disease (meeting the body's energy requirements by using large quantities of animal fats increases the levels of cholesterol).


* it should however be noted that the potential deleterious effect on bone health is probably compensated, if not even reversed, by the increased intestinal absorption of calcium and by the stimulus on the synthesis of IGF-1 induced by high-protein diets.

Atkins o non Atkins

The Atkins diet places unnecessary stress on the body, as the same positive effects in terms of weight loss can also be achieved with healthier diets. See: Diet tips.

Continue: Atkins Diet Example »

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