Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The Atkins Diet

The Atkins diet is a low carbohydrate diet developed by Dr Robert C Atkins in the 1970s. Dr Atkins wrote many books and did refine the diet later, but in the beginning it focused on cutting out almost all carbohydrates regardless of where they came from.

It is also known as the high protein diet, because in the absence of carbs we have to get our calories from proteins and fats. It is set up in structured phases, with the first being the most restricted, as is normal for most diets. Some people skip the first phase (the induction).

Why Does It Work

When we are eating a lot of carbs, the sugars in them require the body to produce a lot of insulin. These levels of insulin help the body to convert a lot of food into fat in the form of triglycerides. This is stored in the body, making us gain weight.

However, if there are no carbs available, the body will switch to a system called ketosis where it can create energy directly from fats. This creates ketones which suppress the appetite (we quickly feel we have eaten enough, or do not feel very hungry and use our fat reserves for energy).

In order to bring on ketosis we have to eat less than 40 grams of carbohydrate in a day. To give you an idea of how little this is, the average person on a standard Western diet consumes around 300 grams per day. 40 grams is about 2 small bananas, or 3-4 slices of bread, or less than 1 cup of cooked brown rice.

For people who like meat and dairy foods the Atkins diet can be a refreshing change from other weight loss programs. This can help motivate you to stick with the diet.

Any Negatives?

You have to get used to a whole new way of figuring out what to eat. It involves taking account of the number of grams of carbohydrate that are in everything.

The diet can be boring and many people do not get enough variety or essential nutrients while following it. This can be overcome by making an effort to include more vegetables and/or supplements, but Dr Atkins does not tend to focus on these points as much as he might.

Many Atkins dieters eat a lot of saturated fat which research has shown can contribute to heart disease and other conditions. It seems likely that some people's bodies do better on a low carb, high protein diet, but other people's do not. You should speak to your doctor before starting and have your cholesterol levels monitored regularly while you are following the Atkins diet.

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