The Atkins diet has caused quite a debate with regards to its use and safety ever since Dr. Atkins launched his ‘Diet Revolution’ in 1972. So what’s wrong with it exactly? For starters, the diet totally excludes all carbohydrates, which are actually an absolutely vital component of our diet. By excluding them, the body must rely on protein and fat, not only as a source of energy, but also for vital nutrients and macronutrients. Therefore, by completely depleting the body of carbohydrate we also decrease our intake of many essential vitamins and minerals as well as fibre and another important type of carbohydrate called ‘non-starch polysaccharide’ which is absolutely essential for normal gut function.
In addition, high intake of fat, especially saturated fat derived from animal products, can increase both lipid and cholesterol levels, both of which are know to increase the risk of developing heart disease. By combining a high fat diet with one that is low in fibre results in a diet that carries an even stronger risk of developing heart disease. Furthermore, consuming too much protein is known to put strain on the kidneys, which can result in possible renal injury. Because the body cannot store protein, once the body’s needs are met, any excess must then be removed. This excess protein is converted by the liver into compounds, like urea, which are finally eliminated through the kidneys as part of urine. High protein intake also causes loss of calcium from the bones into the blood with corresponding implications on bone health.
Generally, whilst the immediate positive benefit attributed to the Atkins diet is quick and relatively easy weight loss, the long-term consequences on cardiac, renal, bone and liver health must be all be taken into consideration. However, the ‘new’ version of the Atkins diet differs from its older counterpart in that rather than excluding carbohydrate completely, after a certain amount of weeks (depending on weight loss targets), carbohydrate is slowly reintroduced. The diet then continues, but as a ‘low-carbohydrate’ diet.
On the whole, this would appear to be a better option to restricting carbohydrate completely. However, it’s still a diet that is very low in fruit, vegetables and fibre, so in terms of digestive health, it’s not in keeping with fibre and ‘complex’ carbohydrate recommendations. Complex carbohydrates are important because they are broken down into glucose slowly, therefore providing a gradual steady stream of energy throughout the day. Eating a diet that has plenty of complex carbohydrate can help reduce the chances of developing type II diabetes for example.
The simple truth is that anyone carrying too much weight has most likely consumed more calories than they should have for some period of time. Whilst you can lose weight on anything that helps you to eat less, it does not mean it’s good for you. If you want to lose weight you need to look the amount of energy you put into your body and compare it to the amount of energy you burn. Men need approximately 2500 Kcal daily and women 2000 Kcal daily. So what do we need these calories for? Our daily calorie intake can be divided into the 3 following areas: firstly, basal metabolic rate (BMR) is the minimum amount of energy needed for our bodies to function on a daily basis and includes things like our heart beating and our breathing. Secondly is something called diet induced thermogenesis (DIT) which is the energy used when we digest our food. Finally, we need energy for physical activity, to move and to exercise and the more active a person is, the more energy they use.
Consuming more calories than we need will simply make the body store them as fat for ‘later use’. With our chaotic modern lifestyles, many of us exercise much less than we should, driving places rather than walking, with many of us having office jobs that require little, if no physical activity. The down side of all this is that sedentary individuals are much more likely to be overweight than active ones. All in all, it’s pretty easy in today’s world to pile on the pounds. Fad diets simply target vulnerable individuals who want a quick fix, and whilst the Atkins may deliver in regards to weight loss, the long-term consequences for our health may outweigh the short-term benefits. If you are really keen to shed those pounds, think about easy changes you can make to you life style and try being more active as well as adjusting what you eat to your level of activity. You simply don’t need as much energy to sit on the sofa watching television as you would playing sport for example. Being active also has numerous other benefits for our stress levels, not to mention its release of ‘happy hormones’.