At the height of its popularity in 2003, around three million of us were following The Atkins Diet, but it fell out of favour when it was suggested that the high-protein plan could lead to health problems. The diet plan has now evolved into a new format, so we’ve spoken to its chief nutritionist Linda O’Byrne to find out what's changed, and to ask if it REALLY works.
The Atkins Diet was originally launched in 1972, but it’s changed in various ways as new research has emerged. Many people still refer to the ‘old’ Atkins, where you could eat unlimited protein sources and limited vegetables. But The New Atkins Diet is much more balanced, explains Linda.
‘There are recommendations for the amount of protein and fat you can consume and it’s a requirement that you get 12-15g of carbohydrates from vegetables alone (8-10 servings a day). Far from being the ‘bacon and eggs’ diet, which it was once viewed as, we now recommend healthy sources of fat, such as oily fish, avocado and olive oil, as well as varied protein sources,’ she says.
Jennifer Aniston, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Demi Moore were all huge fans of the low-carb diet, but its popularity has wavered in recent years as easier, more tailored plans have generated media coverage. So why are we going back to low-carb, high protein?
How is it different to the original Atkins Diet?
‘With The New Atkins Diet, you don’t have to count calories or grams of protein and fat,’ says Linda. ‘Instead, simply count carbohydrates, allowing 20g in Phase One, which will mostly come from vegetables. Followers of The New Atkins shouldn’t feel hungry and deprived, because you can eat a variety of tasty foods that will keep you satisfied.
‘Once you’ve reduced your carb intake for about a week, your blood sugar levels stabilise, so you don’t constantly crave sweet things, like you do on low-calorie or low fat plans.
‘As well as weight loss, The New Atkins should increase your energy levels, improve your skin tone and texture, and boost your mood.’
How easy is it?
‘We have free meal plans for each phase on the website,’ says Linda. ‘There are no calculations of calories or ratios of protein vs. fat vs. carbs necessary. Instead, just keep carbs below 20g (on Phase One) and then gradually add in 5g until you find your ‘Carbohydrate Level for Losing’ – the level where the weight is still dropping off.
‘This makes it easy to find the right carb level for you, as an individual, as well as making it easier to maintain your weight loss. Making this transition also helps you change to healthy eating habits. You add carbs in a certain order, in accordance with the ‘Carb Ladder’, so this makes it easy to determine which carbs are right for you, and which stimulate weight gain.’
How does it work?
‘The diet works by controlling blood sugar levels. When you reduce your intake of carbohydrates, your body switches to burning fat for energy, instead of carbs,’ adds Linda.
‘When you eat carbs, and particularly refined carbs, they’re converted into glucose and this impacts blood sugar levels. This then triggers the release of insulin, which signals your cells to remove glucose from your bloodstream – either for energy, storage as glycogen or conversion to fat.
‘Insulin controls the release of fat from your fat cells and high levels of it mean less fat is released. So when following Atkins, you stop this fat storing process, as you don’t get the spikes and dips in insulin levels, and your body is efficiently using both food and your own body fat as an energy source throughout the day.
‘This also controls your appetite, as spikes in blood sugar lead to increased cravings. Controlling blood sugar also improves energy levels as you’re getting a steady source of energy.’
Is it REALLY safe?
Linda explains that The New Atkins Diet is ‘backed by over 100 studies, making it a medically validated, scientifically proven and safe eating plan’. The book was re-written by three clinical scientists, who have all authored studies on the benefits of low-carb eating. Atkins also has its own Scientific Advisory Board, consisting of experts in fields such as nutrition, metabolism, physiology and food science, including Dr David Haslam, chair of the National Obesity Forum.
‘Atkins has also been shown to improve other health markers, such as cholesterol, blood pressure, diabetes and the risk of strokes,’ says Linda.
Are you convinced? Have you ever tried the Atkins Diet – did it work for you? Let us know in the comments box below…
Visit the Atkins website for more information on the New Atkins Nutritional Approach.