Atkins Diet: General Information
The Atkins diet, after gathering many consents and criticisms in the United States, has recently landed also in Europe and Italy, where it caused quite a stir. It is basically a diet with a low glucose content, which aims to satisfy energy demands especially through fat and protein.
The Atkins diet proposes, for example, to start the day with fried eggs and bacon, eat a piece of cheese in mid-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 conceived the homonymous diet in the 1970s to prevent and control diabetes mellitus. Recently, driven by a massive promotional campaign (it would have been adopted by many Hollywood stars like Jennifer Aniston and Renee Zellweger), the Atkins diet has risen to prominence thanks to its real effectiveness in promoting weight loss.
Why does it works?
Similar to the metabolic diet, the Atkins diet aims to maintain constant insulin levels, turning the body into a real “fat burning” machine.
By strongly limiting carbohydrate intake, this diet forces the body to use lipids and proteins as an alternative energy source. A similar food strategy favours rapid weight loss, given that:
Increases the sense of satiety with consequent spontaneous reduction of food intake-increases daily energy expenditure (thanks to high protein intake)?stimulates the production of anabolic hormones which, combined with a physical power activity (eg bodybuilding), favour the increase of muscle mass and, raise the basal metabolism.
The Atkins diet comprises four distinct phases:
The first period is called INDUCTION and must be followed for at least two weeks. During this first phase the diet requires a strong limitation of the carbohydrate intake, which should 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 (rice, pasta and cereals desserts, snacks, potatoes, sugary drinks, jams, most of the fruit and even different vegetables) should be avoided. Steaks, fish, cheeses, eggs, low glycemic index vegetables 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 serves to accustom the body to burn fat more effectively and to stabilise blood sugar.
In this second stage, the Atkins diet provides for a slight increase in the carbohydrate intake. In particular, the proportion of carbohydrates present in the diet must be increased by 5 grams a day, until the “critical carbohydrate level needed to lose weight” is reached.
To understand when to stop the increase in carbohydrate intake, it is important to keep the balance in check. When weight loss stops the Atkins diet recommends turning back, decreasing the intake of carbohydrates by 5 grams a day, until you reach a moderate weight loss (between 400 and 1400 grams per week).
This level varies from person to person and much lower than what one is used to taking with the traditional Mediterranean diet (about 250 grams of carbohydrates per day).
The small glucidic increments (the famous 5 grams per day) must be satisfied by slightly increasing the intake of vegetables, non-sugary and dry fruit. Also in this second phase the Atkins diet absolutely forbids pasta, bread, cereals, sweets and derivatives.
When you are close to achieving the ideal or desired weight, you enter the third phase. During this time the Atkins diet recommends, increasing your carbohydrate intake by 10 grams a week. This third phase reduces weight loss to only 500 grams per week, preparing the body for the fourth and final maintenance phase.
Aware of the reduced intake of fibre, vitamins and minerals resulting from the reduced consumption of cereals and some types of fruit, the supporters of the Atkins diet recommend integrating their 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 proper functioning of the central nervous system.
Respecting the rules of the Atkins diet after just a couple of days, the body’s carbohydrate reserves are exhausted. Prior to burning fat, our body is forced to produce ketone bodies, given the brain’s inability to use energy fats.
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.
Other possible side effects because of the Atkins diet include constipation, osteoporosis (a high protein intake increases the elimination of calcium with urine *), insomnia, hypercholesterolemia, colon cancer and cardiovascular diseases (satisfying the energy demands of the body by resorting to large amounts of animal fats increase cholesterol levels).
* it should however be pointed out that the potential deleterious effect on bone health is probably compensated, if not even reversed, by the increased intestinal calcium absorption and by the stimulus on IGF-1 synthesis induced by high-protein diets.
Atkins or not Atkins
The Atkins diet subjects the body to unnecessary stress, given that the same positive effects in terms of weight loss can also be achieved with healthier dietary regimes.
By the way, a diet that has been very successful all over the world, especially in the world of celebrities, is the Keto Diet. If you want to know more, look at our article 7 Benefits of the Keto Diet