The Atkins Diet for Seniors

The Atkins Diet received a spike of popularity a few years ago. While some people continue to swear by it, this diet may not be right for seniors. Read on to learn about the Atkins Diet.

Quick Take

  • A high-protein, low-carbohydrate diet
  • Eliminates all refined carbohydrates and limits other carbohydrate sources
  • Does not require calorie counting; only counts grams of carbohydrates
  • Encourages taking a variety of supplements

This Diet Is Best For

No one.

It's full of half-truths, inadequate instructions about how to follow the diet, and a variety of supplement plans that encourage over-consumption of some compounds.

Who Should Not Try This Diet

Everyone should avoid this diet. It's the same high-protein, low-carbohydrate diet, with an anti-aging twist that nutritionists have been warning against for 30 years now.

The Premise

Atkins, of high-protein diet fame, made a foray into anti-aging nutrition with this diet plan. He rightly contends that chronic disease, such as heart disease, diabetes, and high blood pressure, accelerates the aging process no matter what your age. But defying the "prevailing beliefs" about aging, Atkins maintains that most of the physical and mental decline that we consider an inevitable part of aging is actually avoidable.

He blames the current medical establishment for presenting the public with "horribly misleading" information about disease prevention and health. He promises to be the first physician/author to tell readers the "hard truth" that excessive intake of refined carbohydrates shortens your life. The basis of Atkins' plan, like that of his other books, is a low-carbohydrate, high-protein diet, but this one has an antioxidant twist.

He maintains that antioxidants such as vitamins C and E, lipoic acid, and selenium are critical to holding back the hands of time, and he lays out a plan for how to build up your antioxidant shield. Atkins focuses on preventing two major killers: heart disease and diabetes. He does this in part by emphasizing the control of fat levels in the blood, especially high-density lipoprotein (HDL) and triglycerides.

The Rationale

Atkins believes that his diet, coupled with an array of supplements, can boost your immunity, fend off chronic diseases, and keep you younger longer. The diet focuses on protein and avoids carbohydrates, especially those with a high glycemic index (foods that raise blood sugar levels the most). Avoiding high glycemic index foods is important because Atkins blames over-consumption of those foods for heart disease and diabetes.

His theory is that eating high glycemic index foods can trigger insulin resistance, hyperinsulinemia (high levels of insulin in the blood), high blood sugar, and ultimately diabetes. Controlling insulin, says Atkins, is the key to forestalling aging.

Eating on the Atkins Diet

While Atkins talks a lot about foods that are rich in antioxidants, preaches the avoidance of refined carbohydrates, and promotes several different supplement regimens, there is little guidance about exactly what you should put on your plate at each meal. Milk consumption is discouraged because it contains lactose, a simple sugar, but cream is encouraged.

Fresh fruit is limited, and fruit juice is eliminated. For weight loss, Atkins suggests a total of 60 grams of carbohydrates a day, but he offers little information on the carbohydrate content of foods.

What the Experts Say

Few health and nutrition experts are fans of any of Atkins' diet plans, and this one is no exception. It follows the same pattern as his other diet books, in which he advocates a high protein intake and greatly restricts carbohydrates, especially those from table sugar and refined and processed foods.

A diet so low in carbohydrates can leave you feeling drained of energy and is seldom successful over the long-term. In addition, his over-the-top supplementation plans could easily lead to overdosing.

Because little guidance is given in terms of what the daily diet should be, it's hard to say if you'll lose weight on the plan. It would be easy to overeat or to fall short on some important nutrients, such as calcium and vitamin D. Almost no mention is made of either of these nutrients in the diet. Calcium-rich milk is limited to one cup a day.

Without supplements, that's a sure-fire diet prescription for inadequate calcium and vitamin D intake, which can be bad news for bone health as you age. The diet unwisely encourages the consumption of some foods high in saturated fat, such as cream, which is not a good idea for someone trying to prevent heart disease.

Aside from the haphazard and sometimes inaccurate diet advice, the book offers no less than 12 supplement plans for a variety of health conditions, one of which is for weight loss.

But it doesn't say what to do if, for example, you want to lose weight while at the same time supplementing for diabetes, a common predicament for people over 50. Because the diet emphasizes protein foods and limits high-fiber whole grains, constipation could be a problem. In addition, a diet so high in animal protein could also be risky for seniors who need to limit, not increase, their iron intake.

Calorie quota: There is no calorie counting, nor is there portion size guidance or a food exchange plan. In fact, Atkins discourages all three. He suggests you "eat the amount that makes you feel comfortable."

Yes: High-protein foods, cream, low-carbohydrate vegetables, small amounts of whole grains (within the total grams of carbohydrate allowed), a wide variety of supplements

No: High-carbohydrate foods, especially refined carbs and those with a high glycemic index; milk and fresh fruit; fruit juice

Other similar diets: The Zone, Dr. Atkins' New Diet Revolution

Continue to the next page to read about the Carbohydrates Addict's Lifespan Program for Seniors.

To learn more about senior health, see: