Atkins: Is low carb the way to go?

With the challenge that has arisen between my friend and I, it got me thinking about all the different diets on the market today. There are new ones popping up every week with claims to be the next miracle diet. I’ve decided to delve into a few of the most popular ways of eating and see if the claims live up to their hype. I am not promoting or supporting all of the diets I will write about. I am simply exploring the science behind the claims and letting everyone know the pros and cons of each diet. I want everyone to have the facts before changing their eating habits.* First off, I will explore the Atkins Diet.

The Atkins Diet is a high protein, low carbohydrate diet created by Robert Atkins. It is one that has been under much scrutiny and debate for decades. Atkins based his diet on the belief that the rise in obesity is due to an increase and overconsumption of carbohydrates. The restriction of carbohydrates in the diet send the body into a process known as ketosis. This begins when the body’s insulin levels are low, causing the body to use stored fat for energy instead of glucose from carbohydrates. According to an article on Wikipedia, this is how the process works:

Ketogenic diets rely on the insulin response to blood glucose. Because ketogenic dieters eat few carbohydrates, there is no glucose that can trigger the insulin response. When there is no glucose-insulin response there are some hormonal changes that cause the stored fat to be used for energy. Blood glucose levels have to decrease to less than 3.58 mmol/L for growth hormone, epinephrine, and glucagon to be released to maintain energy metabolism.[11] In the adipose cells, growth hormone and epinephrine initiate the triacylglycerol to be broken down to fatty acids. These fatty acids go to the liver and muscle where they should be oxidized and give acetyl-CoA that enters the Krebs cycle directly.[11] However, the excess acetyl-CoA in the liver is converted to ketones (ketone bodies), that are transported to other tissues. In these tissues they are converted back into acetyl-CoA in order to enter the Krebs cycle. Glucagon is produced when blood glucose is too low, and it causes the liver to start breaking glycogen into glucose. Since the dieter does not eat any more carbohydrates, there is no glycogen in the liver to be broken down, so the liver converts fats into free fatty acids and ketone bodies, and this process is called ketosis. Because of this, the body is forced to use fats as a primary fuel source.

The diet begins with two weeks in the “induction phase” with carbohydrate consumption being under 20g per day and coming from only vegetable sources. The diet continues with the “ongoing weight loss phase” with carbohydrate levels increasing by five grams every week and still coming from mostly vegetable and fruit sources. The final stage is the “pre-maintenance stage”, leading into “maintenance”, where carbohydrate levels are increased by 10g per week and the introduction of a few whole grains back into the diet.

Like I stated before, this diet has been under much debate since its Dr. Atkins’s first book about the diet in 1972. Some studies claim that the diet reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease and lowers cholesterol, while other studies claim the diet contributes to cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis, and kidney stones due to its high consumption of fats and proteins. There is still a lot of research being done, with recent studies looking at the long term validity of the diet and studying the effects over an extended period of time beyond just a few months, which previous studies were based on. One study found that women eating a low carbohydrate, high fat and protein diet had the same or less risk of coronary heart disease as women eating a high carbohydrate, low fat diet. Other studies have found that the diet has positive effects on individuals with diabetes, cancer, and epilepsy. On the other hand there have been studies that found negative side affects to the diet. One of the possible risks of a high protein, low carbohydrate diet is the loss of calcium, leading to osteoporosis and kidney stones. The diet has also shown to increase constipation, halitosis (bad breath), and headaches in some subjects. Other opponents say that the initial weight loss when beginning the diet is due to water loss in muscles and not fat loss. They also state that weight loss on any diet is due to caloric restriction below maintenance and that the Atkins diet may produce weight loss in individuals due to reducing food intake and not the restriction of carbohydrates.

I am not sure if this answers any question you may have had about the diet or confused you more, but as you can see there is a ton of debate on this diet. The important thing is to know the possible risks of any diet before starting it and stop following the diet if you experience any negative side effects.

*As with starting any diet or exercise program, consult your physician before beginning.

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One thought on “Atkins: Is low carb the way to go?

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Atkins: Is low carb the way to go? « Trehops's Blog -- Topsy.com

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