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What is the Atkins diet?

The Atkins diet is a low-carbohydrate diet aimed at weight loss founded by Robert Atkins. 

How does the Atkins diet work?

According to the Atkins diet, the body’s three primary energy sources are carbs, fats, and proteins. Traditionally, Americans looking to lose weight would eat low-fat diets, supplementing the lack of energy with carbohydrates and proteins. The Atkins diet reverses this approach by encouraging people to lower their carb intake (especially refined sugars and carbs like white flour) and increase their fat and protein intake. In theory, by reducing your carb intake, your body is forced to use fat stores rather than sugars to produce energy. 

What do you eat on the Atkins diet?

If you decide to participate in the Atkins diet, you’ll eat fewer carbs like bread, pasta, rice, and most fruits and vegetables. In their place, you’ll eat more proteins and fat like chicken, steak, and pork. The exact amount of carbs you’re allowed, as well as which types of carbs, changes depending on the phase of the program you’re on. In the early phases of the diet you’ll be limited to just low-carb vegetables like leafy greens. In the second phase you can incorporate nuts and small amounts of fruit. Finally, in phases three and four you can reintroduce some carbs back into your diet, but the majority of your energy should still come from proteins and fats.

Does the Atkins diet work?

Research has shown that people who follow the Atkins diet may lose weight short term and improve triglyceride levels, cholesterol levels, and blood sugar levels. Longer term, the Atkins diet does not appear to contribute to a greater amount of weight loss compared to low fat or calorie restricted diets. Benefits of following the Atkins diet long term are unclear due to lack of studies that last more than two years. However, many health experts prefer to use caution in regards to the Atkins diet due to the large amount of saturated fat that is consumed. 

The Atkins diet is not appropriate for all individuals, especially those who take certain medications, are pregnant or breastfeeding, or who have kidney problems. Due to the severe restriction of carbohydrates and certain food groups the Atkins diet may result in inadequate fiber intake or nutritional deficiencies.

Learn more about Atkins Diet:

Photo of Kristin Ricklefs-Johnson

Medically reviewed by:

Kristin Ricklefs-Johnson, Ph.D., RD

Kristin is an RDN who also earned her Ph.D. in Nutrition from Arizona State University with an emphasis on insulin resistance, lipid metabolism disorders, and obesity. She completed her post-doctoral fellowship at Mayo Clinic where she focused on nutrition-related proteomic and metabolic research. Her interests include understanding the exact mechanism of action of various genetic variations underlying individual predispositions to nutrition-related health outcomes. Her goal is to help all individuals prevent chronic diseases and achieve long, healthy lives through eating well.

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