Atkins Diet: What You Need to Know

Benefits and Drawbacks

A sample menu following the Atkins plan. You can find recipes for each of these items at the Atkins Web site
A sample menu following the Atkins plan. You can find recipes for each of these items at the Atkins Web site
Photos courtesy Atkins®

Now that you understand how the Atkins plan works, let's examine some of the benefits and drawbacks of low-carbohydrate eating. According to the Atkins Web site, there are four main benefits participants gain from following the Atkins plan:

  1. Weight Loss - When you cut down carbohydrates, your body converts from using carbohydrates for energy to burning fat as the primary energy source. This results in weight loss.
  2. Weight Maintenance - Each individual has a level of carbohydrate intake at which they will neither gain nor lose weight. The Atkins plan allows the body to determine this amount through the eventual increase in the amount of carbs you can eat.
  3. Good Health - Atkins dieters are encouraged to eat nutrition-rich foods with vitamin and nutritional supplements as needed.
  4. Disease Prevention - Lowering carbohydrate intake and, in turn, insulin production may help prevent diseases like diabetes.

The Atkins Web site also lists a few drawbacks to the diet. The two main drawbacks are bad breath, which is a result of excess ketone production, and constipation.

While some may consider the strictness of the diet a drawback, Atkins dieters are quick to point out that only carbohydrates are restricted - leaving a large selection of other food options.

And, unlike many other diets, for the most part the amount of food you eat has no restriction. Although, according to the Atkins plan, it's unlikely that you'll be overeating because:

  • Your cravings will be reduced
  • Protein-rich and high-fat foods are more satisfying and filling

The medical and nutritional communities have been increasingly concerned about some additional drawbacks to the Atkins diet. Many believe that the diet is a temporary fix for the permanent problem of weight loss. In other words, limiting carbohydrates to the degree the Atkins plan does, may be very difficult to maintain for many people. After all, the typical American eats a large amount of carbohydrates and the almost total elimination of this food group may not be something dieters can stick with for an extended amount of time.

Many medical groups have voiced concerns over the potential long-term health risks of the Atkins diet, such as kidney stones, ulcers and repeated kidney infections. Furthermore, in the past, research has shown that eating high levels of saturated fat -- as Atkins dieters often do -- may have negative health effects including increased cholesterol which can lead to heart disease and stroke.

Debates over the Atkins diet continue, and it would appear that the medical community is split on the issue. Let's take a closer look at what the experts are saying.