Lifting the Lid on Fad Diets: The Atkin’s Diet

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We have all heard of the bizarre methods of the Atkin’s diet. Popular in the 80s the Atkin’s diet boosted its popularity by promising to help people lose vast amounts of weight. It was a simple concept, you ate little to no carbohydrates and consumed A LOT of protein!

What is the Atkins Diet and how does it work?

This diet was created by Dr Robert Atkins. He founded the idea that cutting carbohydrates a consuming heaps of protein could help the body become a fat burning machine, helping you to drop weight in a matter of weeks. The rules are as follows:

  • You must not consume more than 20g of carbohydrate, this means avoiding carbohydrate dense foods such as bread, rice, pasta, vegetables and fruit. In a normal healthy diet we are recommended to eat approximately 200-250g of carbohydrate per day. To understand how small 20g of carbohydrate is consider that in once slice of wholegrain bread there is 13g of carbohydrate, and in a bagel there is a massive 49g!
  • You are allowed to eat fats and oils, as these contain no carbohydrates and many are high sources of protein. You are allowed to use an abundance of butter, cream, and vegetable oils.
  • The remainder of your diet should be made up of protein. These protein sources include cheese, eggs, meat, poultry and fish. The typical meal you see advertised it a steak. You are not allowed many of the vegetarian sources of protein as these contain large amounts of carbohydrate in them. You must avoid, legumes, nuts and seeds.
  • No alcohol, No caffeine.
  • You must drink x8 228ml of water. Water can help keep you satiated and the body from being dehydrated.

As the weeks or ‘phases’ go by you are allowed to introduce more foods and variation into your diet. The idea is you only switch from phase one, once you have lost a stone. Phase 2 introduces more fruits and vegetables, and low carbohydrate options. By the end of phase 2 you are allowed up to 50g of carbohydrate (approximately 1 bagel). Finally in Phase 3 and 4 you may up you carbohydrate content to 100g by slowly adding 5g of carbohydrate at a time [1].

You may be thinking, but how does it work? Our body is a finely tuned machine it works by utilising energy from our diets to form ATP (adenosine triphosphate) the body’s fuel. Our secondary sources of energy are fats and proteins. By restricting our primary source of energy, carbohydrates, our body enters Ketosis. Ketosis simply breaks the fats that are within our body for energy. As a result of this chemical reaction Ketone bodies are formed (acetone and beta-hydroxybutyrate). These ketone bodies can then be converted into Acetyl COA, a precursor to ATP, that enters the citric acid cycle.

What are the Benefits of the Atkin’s Diet?

  • It will make you lose weight very quickly. The body will use your stores of body fat first as a source of energy. Which means, goodbye spare tyre!
  • You don’t have to cut out all the things you love, e.g junk food and meat.
  • Being in a state of Ketosis, can sometimes improve your mood.
  • If you are combining the diet with exercise you are providing it with protein to help repair.
  • Can aid symptoms of disorders such as Epilepsy

What are the Drawbacks of the Atkin’s Diet?

  • A pH Change, when this goes too far the body will move out of Ketosis and into ketoacidosis. It is well documented that eating a very low carbohydrate diet can cause the pH of the body to become more acidic.
  • You may get headaches and feel cognitively slower as the brain is not being fed with enough energy.
  • Compliance is hard as carbohydrates are the basis of many traditional meals.
  • Cannot be undertaken by vegetarians.
  • Cutting out carbohydrates can have serious implications to your health. Many of the food sources of carbohydrates are wholegrains and fruits and vegetables this means the body will undergo a period of malnourishment.
  • You will feel irritable and short tempered as you energy stores diminish.
  • It’s a diet that requires a lot of cooking as there are very few meats and fish that you can eat raw.
  • The flavours are very mundane and can get very boring very easily.
  • Diet is often very high in saturated fats.

What are the Common Nutrients Deficient in an Atkin’s Diet?

Carbohydrates are often rich in B-Vitamins, and Fibre. The B Vitamins are typically found in cereals and wholegrain based foods. The B Vitamins 1-8 are most likely those that will be deficient. These vitamins are mainly responsible for cognitive abilities and energy metabolism. This is why, when on the Atkin’s diet it is common to feel fatigued, irritable, and find concentrating on as task difficult.

Secondly, people undertaking the Atkin’s diet are likely to be deficient in fibre. The 2015 recommendedation was to take in between 24 and 30g of fibre per day. Many of the most common fibre sources include wholegrain breads, cereals, and root vegetables – which of course are not allowed in the Atkin’s diet.

Many of the nutrients abundantly in fruits and vegetables will also be excluded such as Vitamin A (beta-carotene), Vitamin C, Vitamin K, selenium, magnesium and potassium. Vitamin A, is used for healthy vision and skin. Vitamin C is required for energy and collagen production, but also the health of the immune system. Vitamin K is required for efficient clotting of the blood and health of the bones. Selenium is needed for immune system health, fertility, healthy skin/hair/nails, and antioxidant properties. In the body magnesium is used for electrolyte balance, bone health, and production of energy. Finally, potassium is used to manage blood pressure, the nervous system, and muscular contractions. Now, it is clear to see the dire effects a fad diet such as this can have on you nutrition status. It would be advised that during the time you undertake this diet you may want to take a multivitamin supplement and minerals along side the programme.

Here at Oxford Vitality we do not condone nor recommend the Atkin’s diet, however, if you are adamant on undertaking it, we ask that you do so carefully. Consult a doctor before undertaking any drastic diet in an attempt to lose weight. There is no substitute for a healthy diet and exercise programme for healthy weight loss.

  1. Collins. C. (2015). The Atkin's Diet. Available: http://www.webmd.boots.com/diet/atkins-diet-plan.
  2. Nordqvist.C. (2014). What is the Atkin's Diet? What are the Benefit of the Atkin's Diet?. Available: http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/7379.php.

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