Atkins Myths 

Facts and Myths about the Atkins lifestyle

It is common to hear misinformation about the Atkins lifestyle from almost everyone. What is fact and what is fiction? Many people have been discouraged from continuing to follow this program even when they have been successful losing weight, feeling better and improving their risk factors by uninformed or deliberately misleading comments.

How many people have regained their weight because of giving up the only program that worked for them or that they could follow long term?

Educating people about the facts is what is needed to dispel the many incorrect statements made by medical people, well meaning but uneducated friends or family and of course the media who sensationalizes and cherry-picks what it will report about Atkins.

Providing education and research data can go along way to demonstrating that a low carb way of eating is a safe, effective and healthy way of life. Instead of a one-size-fits-all approach, low carb deserves to be considered a healthy choice if we are to address the ever increasing numbers of people with obesity and its complications.

Myth: Atkins is a nutrient-poor program.

Fact: Even on Induction one consumes 4 to 5 servings of low glycemic, high nutrient vegetables daily. In addition, fruits such as tomato, avocado and olives are included. According to the CDC only 27.2% of Americans eat 3 or more servings of vegetables daily.

A survey conducted by Dr. Richard Feinman from Downstate Medical School found that long term Atkins users are eating more vegetables than they did prior to starting the program.

Click here for an analysis of the vitamin and mineral content of an Induction menu on Atkins or here for the flash version .

Once beyond Induction more vegetables and fruits are added. In the higher phases even legumes, starchy vegetables and whole grains may be included if your metabolism allows.

Many people are unaware that by following a lower fat, high carb, and low calorie diet one can be deficient in essential fatty acids, fat soluble vitamins and B12 if you are curbing your meat consumption.

Regardless of diet it is a good idea for all adults to take a good iron free multivitamin (unless you are iron deficient).

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Myth: Most of the weight you lose on Atkins is water.

Fact: A portion of the initial weight lost is water just as it is on any diet. It takes about 4 days for most people to switch to burning fat once carbs are cut low enough.

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Myth: Eating more protein will cause kidney damage.

Fact: There has never been a study that demonstrated that increasing protein intake damages healthy kidneys. In fact, a review published on the Nutrition & Metabolism site in September 2005 states that there is no evidence that a higher protein intake is a concern in this regard.

In none of the studies conducted on the low carb diet has there been evidence of kidney damage.

However, people who already have severe pre-existing kidney disease often require a more limited protein intake along with regular monitoring of kidney function.

People with diabetes are at risk for kidney disease. Not because of eating protein but because of the damaging effects of high levels of blood sugar. Controlling carbohydrates is a good strategy for improving blood sugar control in people with type 2 diabetes thus decreasing the risk of kidney complications as well as other complications of diabetes.

For more information  click here

Myth: Following the Atkins diet leads to bone loss and osteoporosis.

Fact: This rumor has been circulating since Dr. Atkins first book was published in 1974. Bone loss is supposed to occur because the diet is considered a high protein diet. This itself is a misconception although protein intake is higher than the 15% usually recommended.

A few inconclusive short term studies showed increased calcium excretion with a high protein intake from protein powder (not an Atkins program). This was then extrapolated to mean osteoporosis would result even though bone mass was not measured.

This study was repeated using meat rather than protein powder. It showed that after 2 weeks the body adapted to a higher protein intake normalizing calcium excretion.

More recently a number of studies have shown the importance of adequate protein for bone health. The Framingham Osteoporosis Study demonstrated the importance of dietary protein for building and maintaining strong bones especially as one ages. Over a 4 year period the elderly people who ate the most protein had the strongest bones. Those who ate the least lost significantly more bone mass.

A small study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found young women showed better absorption of dietary calcium in those who ate more protein compared to those who ate the least.

Another study showed that combining higher protein with a higher calcium intake of 1300mg daily bones stayed stronger.

A 2004 study looked at replacing carbs with protein, calorie for calorie, as having a more favorable impact on the bones of healthy men and women.

Lastly, a study done on people following the lower phases of Atkins for 6 months had no negative changes in bone density. This goes along with observations of low carb practitioners who have not reported a negative impact on bones related to following an Atkins Lifestyle long term.

Myth: A diet high in fat causes cancer.

Fact: Consuming natural fats do not lead to cancer. Having a high body fat percent predisposes you to cancer. Fat is often blamed because fat is higher in calories than protein or carbohydrate and the assumption is made that eating higher fat will make you fat based on the calories in-calories-out theory. When following an Atkins Lifestyle you are not gaining fat but burning it and normalizing your weight.

Research continues to accumulate implicating high insulin and high levels of insulin-like growth factor as risks for a number of cancers. Carbohydrate foods are primarily responsible for stimulating insulin. High insulin levels are common in people as they gain excessive weight. This is especially true if you are consuming large amounts of refined carbs. By controlling both the quality and quantity of carbs you consume you can expect to normalize both blood sugar and insulin.

A 2004 study published in the International Journal of Cancer showed a relationship to prostate cancer risk when consuming foods with a high glycemic index and glycemic load. Another study published in Gastroenterology found a protective effect from meat in pancreatic cancer. In 2008 a report in The American Journal of Gastroenterology found both the intake of refined carbs and total carb intake correlated with increased risk of esophageal cancer. The International Journal of Cancer reported a study that demonstrated a decreased risk of breast cancer in women eating a diet high in animal products and no relationship with a meat-rich, saturated fat diet and ovarian cancer. A positive correlation to increased cancer risk was demonstrated with a starch-rich diet- 34% higher risk for breast cancer and 84% increased risk for ovarian cancer.

While epidemiological studies cannot prove cause the evidence continues to accumulate that

controlling both the quality and quantity of carbs can normalize insulin levels; successfully address obesity and likely decrease risks for a variety of cancers and other chronic health concerns.

Myth: Atkins stresses the liver and can cause liver damage.

Fact: There has never been any research to support this. It is likely another theory that because Atkins allows a higher fat intake it will cause fatty infiltration of the liver. All of the studies done on people doing Atkins have examined liver function tests and have shown it to be safe. In years of clinical practice there has been no indication of liver damage. Many people have fatty infiltration of the liver as a complication of obesity. It is called non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. It can become as severe as to cause serious complications. When treating people with elevated liver enzymes on a low carb plan it is common to see normalizing liver tests often within a short period of time, even before significant weight loss occurs.

Myth: Atkins is a fad diet for short-term weight loss only. People canít eat low carb forever.

Fact: People can and do and are quite happy to do so. There are many benefits to controlling carbs that are important to people who want to be responsible for their health.

Atkins has been around for decades and low carb was first described in the 1860ís-- so much for the ďfadĒ label. 

Atkins isnít a diet but a lifestyle. To be successful in managing weight you must make a permanent change is what you eat and how you make food decisions. There are 4 phases of Atkins including Lifetime Maintenance to enable you to personalize the plan to address your metabolic needs.   

Many people are addicted to carbs and canít imagine giving up the unhealthy ones forever. Yet itís a lot easier to do than most people think. Not only does Atkins control hunger but cravings as well. As little as a few days into the plan hunger decreases, cravings diminish and even disappear. To find a plan that controls hunger and cravings is liberating to people who are carb addicted increasing their chances of success.

Because Atkins stabilizes blood sugar levels numerous common symptoms improve. You should expect to experience higher, more sustained energy, better moods, improved sleep, the need for less sleep, increased concentration and alertness, coping with stress better, less gas, bloating and heartburn, less aches and pains.

A low carbohydrate plan has positive effects on a number of health concerns. Among them are GERD and other gastrointestinal problems, seizures, headaches, skin conditions, cardiovascular risk factors, metabolic syndrome, high blood pressure, diabetes, arthritis, asthma, arthritis and others.

The many people who have given low carb a chance find they feel better, enhance their quality of life and often need to take fewer medications. To many of us this lifestyle is a gift rather than a hardship.

Myth: The higher fat intake allowed on Atkins causes heart disease.

Fact: The idea that dietary cholesterol and saturated fat leads to heart disease is a hypothesis. There is a weak association at best. Much of the research underlying the hypothesis is based on epidemiological research that does not prove cause. It points to an association with numerous confounders such as manufactured trans fats and a high carb intake as factors. For an eye-opening and interesting discussion how this theory came to be adopted read Good Calories, Bad Calories by Gary Taubes.

Natural fats have been part of our diets since the beginning of the human race. We are genetically programmed to be carnivores. Our caveman ancestors had a low carb diet. They did not have processed foods, refined flour, high fructose corn syrup or other items that pass as food today.

Recent research done on Atkins-type diets have shown interesting and to some surprising results.

 Low carb diets decrease cardiovascular risks by:

        Re-balancing blood sugar/insulin

        Lowering triglycerides

        Increasing HDL cholesterol better than any drug available

        Shifting LDL particles from small, dangerous types to large, buoyant particles

        Decreasing inflammatory chemicals

        Lowering blood pressure, decreasing fluid retention

        Improving the processing of saturated fat

        Inhibiting the manufacture of fat

        Improving the clearance/use of saturated fat

It appears to be the amount of carbs especially those that have the most negative impact on insulin and blood sugar regulation that plays a role in cardiovascular disease.

You can review the research on low carb plans including studies comparing lower fat with low carb.

Myth: You need to eat at least 130 grams of carbs a day to maintain brain function.

Fact: Unlike fat and protein there is no minimum daily dietary need for carbs although you will hear this statement made all the time. Yes, the brain and few other tissues in the body require about 130 grams of carbs daily to function properly but these need not be from food sources. The body is quite capable of meeting this need by making enough glucose for these tissues. Additionally, the brain and heart function efficiently on ketones. If our bodies couldnít do this our species would not have survived. Ketones are produced when fat is burned which happens when you cut carbs to less than 50 grams daily. Remember that your fat reserves are there as fuel stores to prevent starvation and protect lean mass. If you have an excess of fat stores what better way to use them then for fuel as they were intended?

Myth: When you eat low carb youíre always tired.

Fact: Quite the contrary. Controlling both the quality and quantity of carbs stabilizes blood sugar and insulin levels leading to more energy and more sustained energy. It can take a few days for the body to adapt to a fat burning metabolism rather than a glucose burning one. During that time some people may experience fatigue. Additionally, because high insulin levels cause water retention, as high levels normalize, fatigue can occur if too much water is lost and with it minerals. To avoid this add 2 cups of salty bouillon daily or take a multimineral containing calcium, potassium and magnesium.

Sugar gives you very short-term energy and in many people actually causes a hypoglycemic response leading to fatigue and numerous other symptoms within 2 hours or so of your last sugar fix.

Research has demonstrated that fat burning provides more sustained energy once you have adapted to a fat-burning metabolism. This has been tested on competitive athletes whose energy requirements are far about the average person. You can review the research here and here.