The Atkins Nutritional Approach, or Atkins Diet for short, revolutionized the world of dieting in the 1970s. Prevailing medical theory at the time promoted a low-fat, lean protein diet with plenty of fiber and complex carbohydrates.
It was no secret that obesity and its associated artery-clogging plaque could become lethal in a matter of seconds or minutes. However, new information came from a careful analysis of the plaque itself. It was discovered that saturated fats and cholesterol were found in high concentrations in the deadly buildup.
The idea of fat as an enemy still prevails today, as is quickly perceived by a look at the official USDA Recommended Daily Allowances and Food Pyramid Guide. People are advised to eat five servings a day of whole grain carbohydrates, while restricting the intake of fatty meats and oils to just once per day. In other words, the ratio of carbohydrate to fat in our daily diet should be five-to-on.
The public received the news with enthusiasm. It made sense. Fats made you well fat. When Dr. Robert Atkins came up with the notion of an inverse relationship, everyone gawked. According to the Atkins approach, carbohydrates, not fats, are the cause of the obesity crisis of the past hundred or so years. To those who had been dutifully ingesting their five servings of whole grains every day, this was shocking news, to say the least. Even so, it was hard to argue with Dr. Atkins. He used the diet he pioneered to resolve his own weight loss issues.
At the core of the diet is the premise that the body primarily burns carbohydrate as a fuel for energy. Atkins contends that in order to lose any significant amount of weight in a reasonable period of time, one has to switch the body into fat-burning mode, instead.
The way to do this is to deprive the body of carbohydrates, forcing down insulin levels in the blood. Insulin is a hormone that regulates glucose (a type of carbohydrate) concentrations in the body. In the presence of low insulin levels, the liver begins to break down fat. This process, known as ketosis, is the cornerstone of the science behind the Atkins diet.
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However, ketosis is also triggered by starvation and diabetes. Before Atkins hailed ketosis as a positive signal, it was known to the medical community as a sign that the brain and nervous system needed emergency fuel and symptoms include nausea, kidney problems and bad breath. Hardly Sweet Sexy Science, as the new slogan for the Atkins diet proclaims.
To achieve ketosis, although one is now forced to wonder if this is really a desirable turn of events, the Atkins diet puts very heavy restrictions on the amount of carbohydrate that can be eaten at any stage of the diet. In the first phases, a maximum of twenty grams of carbohydrate is allowed per day. To put this figure in context, your average-sized banana contains twenty-six grams of carbohydrate.
Hence, there are many, many nutritious foods that are automatically precluded from the diet in any significant amounts. After all, where else can you get twelve percent of your daily recommended amount of potassium from a single natural source?
Besides being nutritionally dubious, the early Atkins followers found themselves eating a variation of steak, egg and spinach all day every single day. Fruits, nuts, grains and starchy vegetables are all carbohydrate-containing, ketosis-threatening foods. Thus they may not be eaten at all. Atkins has evolved over the years. The fact remains, though, that in order to achieve the initial encouraging spurt of weight loss, one would have to remain on Phase 1 of the diet indefinitely.
However, even Atkins himself realized that Phase 1 was not sustainable. He indirectly admits to this by gradually relaxing the rules of the program as time goes on. During this time, weight loss slows, but at least the body does not become nutritionally deficient as it would if Phase 1 has continued. And the dieter does not become discouraged by the endless parade of meat.
This brings us to another point that Atkins is wholly unsuitable for vegetarians. A lacto-ovo vegetarian may be able to muddle through, if he/she can stomach eating mainly eggs and cheese for quite some time. However the primary sources of vegan protein are extremely starchy and thus incompatible with the diet.
And finally, let us consider the fact that a diet low in saturated fat and high in whole grains is still the only clinically proven way to avoid obesity and related health problems. In this light, long-term Atkins followers are ticking time bombs. It has also been shown the high protein diets acidify the body, leeching minerals from the bones in order to rebalance the optimum pH. As a result, Atkins dieters are at higher risk of osteoporosis and bone fracture.