The New New Atkins Diet

By Jim F

new atkins diet

The Atkins Diet is legendary. It is one of the few diets that caused a kind of mass hysteria. Food manufacturers lined up to bring new lines of low-carb food, and everyone was talking about Atkins.

Dr Robert Atkins passed away in 2003, and since then the super-fad of Atkins has slowly ebbed away. This hasn’t stopped numerous versions of the Atkins diet appearing on the shelves.

Dr. Atkins’ New Diet Revolution was published in 2002. The All-New Atkins Advantage appeared in late 2007.

In between these dates a myriad of variations on the low-carb theme have appeared.

New Atkins for a New You

Finally, we have The New Atkins for A New You by Dr Eric Westman.

While it seems odd to keep calling the same diet “new” — it demonstrates that nutrition is a field that is constantly changing as new research comes to hand.

What’s so “New” About It”

atkins-pyramidOne of the biggest criticisms of the original was the allowance of large amounts of saturated fats.

People were losing weight, but many had out of control blood lipid levels in the process.

Healthy Fats

The new atkins diet still promotes eating a high percentage of fats in the diet to promote ketosis, but it now stresses the importance of eating healthy fats.

Saturated fat isn’t cut out completely, but “Atkinites” are instructed to consume fats like olive oil, omega 3 rich oils, while to avoid trans fat.

Exercise

Exercise guidelines have also changed a bit. In the past many dieters complained about being weak and light headed during exercise while on Atkins.

Now dieters are instructed to increase their daily net carb intake as their exercise levels increase to avoid potential undesired symptoms.

The latest Atkins revision includes information from over 80 references that make up the body of research undertaken in the field of low-carbohydrate diets.

Criticisms

While the new Atkins diet seems like a healthier approach to low carb dieting it still has some drawbacks.

I think the biggest is the addition and promotion of their huge line of processed food products with everything from frozen meals and snack bars to desserts.

Notice that their pyramid doesn’t show a single processed product, but their website and retails stores are full of Atkins Advantage products.

I understand that they are trying to make money, but there seems to be a bit of a double standard.

Low carb diets will always have their place, and there is ample evidence to show that a restricted carbohydrate approach leads to weight loss.

However, it seems that (like many restrictive diets) the fall-off rate is high. It’s hard to stick to, and long-term results are varied.

60 Comments

  1. Mike Howard

    Ryan,

    Again, I don’t disagree that you CAN’T be active without carbs, but it’s not OPTIMAL if your goal is performance. Being in a state of ketosis for the sake of fat loss is unnecessary. Non-ketogenic low carb diets are just as effective as ketogenic ones for fat loss.

    Johnston CS et. al. Ketogenic low-carbohydrate diets have no metabolic advantage over nonketogenic low-carbohydrate diets. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. (2006) 83: 1055-1061

    Reply
  2. Mike Howard

    Hi Ryan,

    I don’t disagree with most of your bullet points. My contention is that fat loss isn’t as simple as balancing hormones and flipping a switch via low carb to make everything harmonious. You can’t introduce something as complicated as food into something as complex as the human body and make easy predications about the outcome.

    I’ve never been a fan of preaching complete avoidance of any particular category or sub-category of food. If avoiding these things altogether works for you, then do it. I just don’t agree with a sweeping recommendation to do so when there is no evidence that consuming these foods in lesser quantities is harmful.

    Reply
  3. soozeequeue

    Re: hormones. I have certainly experienced first hand that they play a big role, as a peri-menopausal woman. I go through periods where I feel compelled to eat, and periods where I have very little interest in food, and have to literally remind myself to eat. And it is in direct relationship to other cycles and changes in my body.

    When people on the site – espectially guys,, or very young women – beat up a female poster who says she is having a difficult time controlling her cravings because they say it is exclusively because she lacks “willpower”, I want to throttle them. Unless you’ve experienced some of this craziness yourself, it’s pretty hard to understand it or judge!

    I think a lot of work needs to be done in the area of understanding the role of hormones in all of this.

    Reply
  4. soozeequeue

    Well, thank you. I also think that we could give Aktins some of the credit for helping us to understand that eating “empty” carbs when we are hungry just creates a craving for more carbs. This is something that I have taught my kids – hungry, rapidly growing boys – that when they need a snack they should look for something with protein and maybe a little fat – because if they start with the crackers or whatever they are just going to want to keep eating. They now get why cheese and an apple might make more sense than what they are craving.

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  5. Ryan

    Show me the large, well-designed, controlled studies that show saturated fat is bad for you. Come on, hit me with them.
    http://www.ajcn.org/cgi/content/abstract/ajcn.2009.27725v1

    Reply
  6. Jen106s

    Eliminating one major food group from your diet will lead to weight loss. Although the reason why so many people relapse on the adkins is because when you deprive yourself of carbohydrates too long the primial insticts kick in and you expirence great cravings for starchy based foods, ie, white potatoes, pasta, and bread. Although it can be beneficial to eliminate some carbs from your diet, but i don’t agree with a lot of the adkins diet guidelines. Saturated fat should be consumed in moderation, and no one should go over board with any fat. Eating a diet with loads of vegtables, lean meat, reduced fat cheeses, some fruit, and few carbs is a better approach. Lots of vegtables and meat will fill you up, but it is important to add one serving of carbs to every meal, becuase others whys you will be in for a binge.

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  7. Ryan

    Calories are NOT what always count, at least in rats. There was a study where rats were given free access to a standard dry food and water (control group), or the same dry food and water sweetened with fructose (experimental group). Energy intake was not limited, but it was monitored. The fructose group ended up consuming less calories, but they had 90% more body fat than the control group.

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  8. Matt

    Also, the US Government subsidizes sugar, wheat, soy and corn growers quite heavily. It certainly wouldn’t be in the USDA’s interest to promote a meat and veg diet that shies away from the subsidized crops, and that’s who makes the nutrition guidelines. Messed up.

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  9. Pater Lingen

    Sure, “Atkins” works – as long as you really cut your calories, because calories are that what really counts.
    “Atkins” may be the most prominent ideology in the diet field, but it is an ideology nevertheless.
    I have read Atkins’ latest (?) book: “The new Atkins” (or anything like that). It was full of boring junk about people he personally knew. Even awful soap operas are more interesting.
    But well hidden in this mess, there were also – very few – interesting lines, because they showed how Atkins *really* work:
    1. Stop eating when you are full.
    2. Make some sport.
    Now, that’s a revolution…

    Reply
  10. Ryan

    The only factor in how much you eat? No. One can mentally force themselves to eat more than their appetite. However, in the grand scheme, people aren’t going to be counting every single calorie they eat for their entire existence. It would be maddening. In addition, a weight management approach that doesn’t require exercise would be useful (subject may have injuries, be too busy, etc). Proper control of hormones, especially leptin, will get the body to automatically balance appetite and energy expenditure. That’s why the system is there.

    Here’s what I tell people who want to lose weight. It may seem very loose, but it works in practice:
    * Avoid sugar
    * Avoid grains/legumes that haven’t been fermented/sprouted.
    * Avoid plant-based oils except coconut or palm kernel. Use grass-fed animal fat if you can get/afford it.
    * Take 5,000-10,000 IU of Vitamin D per day.
    * Eat when you feel hungry until you don’t feel hungry
    * If you feel you must exercise, screw the traditional cardio and either do weight lifting or Tabata

    Reply
  11. Ryan

    Spectra’s point was that you can’t be active without carbohydrates. Even a single-person counterexample is sufficient. “Some people can, some people can’t” might be a better statement.

    Reply
  12. Mike Howard

    Hi Ryan,

    1) I’m not interested in anecdotal accounts. If it works for you and a bodybuilder from yesteryears – wonderful.

    2) Re: The Inuit. You could also make the argument that high carb worked well for the Okinawans and those in rural China. If you are going to make the claim that they are evolutionarily adapted for carb consumption, we could also make the same contention for the Inuit, no?

    Reply
  13. Mike Howard

    Are you claming that hormones are the sole determinant of our food intake? If so, could you provide some evidence?

    Reply
  14. J. Foster

    You’ve shown that Atkins has – at the least – been useful in educating us. We don’t actually need as much carbohydrate as what we thought.

    Thanks Soozeequeue.

    Reply
  15. Ryan

    The Inuit did just fine. I’ve tried it myself for bodybuilding, which should require carbs the most, and it does work. I’m also Korean, so my ancestry is shifted at least somewhat towards carbs. Vince Gironda, the main bodybuilding trainer in the 60s and 70s, also experimented with zero carb diets and found they worked.

    Reply
  16. ActiveRD

    Carbohydrates are not essential, only amino acids and fatty acids. There are nutritional components found in our grain products but their carbohydrate is not essential for life. Adequate carbohydrate to support CNS function can be found in non starchy vegetables and minimal fruit intake. The Atkins line of thought, utlizing fat for energy, has been around for a very long time and is common in some bodybuilding circles. As a participating member of the fat utilizing crowd, I can attest to the maintenance of lean muscle mass and strength gains made while consuming a low carb, high (healthy) fat, high protein diet. The important factor is to find the appropriate amount of carbohydrate for maximum efficiency versus the amount of carbohydrate related to personal preferential intake to maintain weight loss and energy levels as well as performance. However, the changes in food intake habits and behaviors are not for the uneducated. A solid base of nutritional knowledge is required to make the appropriate food choices to see the best results. Also, being fit and cut may not be in everyones goals. If an individual can maintain a healthy weight and avoid chronic disease while eating complex carbohydrates, moderate fat and protein then by all means follow those dietary habits. It is, however, always interesting to see the ever changing course of nutritional research and related instruction/education the follows.

    Reply
  17. Ryan

    Ok, Mike, but what determines how many calories you eat and burn? Your hormones.

    Reply
  18. Mike Howard

    Weight loss/gain is dependent a cascade of factors and goes much deeper than the levels of a few select horomones. To say that calories don’t matter is scientifically incorrect. While certain hormones can influence weight fluctuations to varying degrees under certain conditions – hormonal influence bows to calories.

    Reply
  19. Mike Howard

    Congrats, soozeequeue! I think it’s an important lesson when people are able to strke that good individually-tailored balance.

    Reply
  20. Mike Howard

    Ryan,

    While it is true that one CAN exercise on virtually no carbs, it certainly isn’t OPTIMAL. I agree that the body can and usually does adapt to a ketogenic state, there is no empirical or clinical evidence that full performance will be restored. Anectdotally, this doesn’t appear to be the case.

    Reply
  21. Ryan

    Ok, first off, Asians are genetically gifted for eating starches. They have bigger salivary glands and pancreas per body weight. These secrete amylase, which breaks starches into simple sugars.

    Second, weight loss/maintenance is about hormones. Leptin, T3, T4, testosterone, etc. It’s not about how much you exercise, calorie counting, or any of that. Leptin keeps your body weight regulated, but you can develop a resistance to it with fructose, lectins in grains/legumes, or Vitamin D deficiency. You can also develop a resistance to T3 and T4 from too much Omega-6. Soy also has its own thyroid toxins. Atkins succeeds because it tends to avoid these endocrine destroying foods.

    Reply
  22. Ryan

    You’re making the assumption that you can’t be active without carbohydrates. This is patently false. It’s true that you will slow down some days into ketosis. However, once the body adapts to using ketones, it picks up again and functions just fine.

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  23. musajen

    My understanding about this new book is that it is organized differently to emphasize the eating plan with the science taking up a meaty section in the back. People tend to think the Atkins diet is ALL about eating meat, cheese, and cream. This is false. My guess is that a maintenance Atkins diet wouldn’t look much different from the average diet of this forum.

    Our bodies can handle starches & grains to an extent (and varies depending on the person) but they aren’t optimal (you get more nutrition from a bowl of veggies than a bowl of oatmeal) and the body definitely isn’t meant to handle starches & grains in the large quantities we consume today. Hence rise in diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and heart disease.

    What I don’t understand is why anyone would want to consume anything that has an extended shelf life. I would think they have less to offer me nutritionally than a fresh vegetable or just butchered slab of grass-fed beef.

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  24. Stayfitcentral

    I agree Ryan. Plus, once you get past the induction phase of the Atkins diet you are able to begin introducing carbohydrates back into your diet until you find the what/the amount you can eat every day.

    Once you have lost the weight you need/want to lose, you may be able to eat 150 or grams of carbohydrates daily which makes it possible to eat some of your favorite foods, just not a ton of processed, carb-rich foods.

    Reply
  25. Jody - Fit at 52

    Yes, to Spectra & Dr. J!

    Reply
  26. EscapeFromFat

    Its funny that when the word “New” is put on a product we think its reinvented. Maybe it has or maybe its just a marketing ploy to get us sucked in again. I suppose it wouldn’t sound as good if it title was Atkins Diet Updated!

    Reply
  27. soozeequeue

    Years ago when the hype was on I “did” Atkins and didn’t have great or lasting results. But, when I did finally take the weight I wanted off, and had lasting results, I can give my Atkins experience some credit for making me highly aware of carbs I consume and I still focus on “good ones” – carbs from fruits and vegetables and whole grains – I think it helps that I don’t think rice or potatoes or any bread product needs to be part of a meal and I would rather make 2 or 3 kinds of vegetables with a protein for dinner instead.

    Reply
  28. Rebecca Scritchfield

    You nailed it. Diets don’t work in the long term. That’s what the ample evidence shows us.

    Change your mindset and avoid a diet plan. Educate yourself. Make value-based nutrition choices. Of course, watch added sugars and keep your carbs in the healthy range of 40-65% of calories. But you don’t have to achieve ketosis (which is used to treat seizures) to lose weight healthfully.

    I don’t diet and neither do my clients. We’re all healthy.

    Rebecca Scritchfield MA, RD

    Reply
  29. lizagill

    A good healthy diet is essential for internal health, remember that your body is designed to make use of certain foods, and if you don’t give it the foods that it needs to function properly it will start to have problems.I love this blog it contain all about the balance diet.

    Reply
  30. J. Foster

    Nice to see you around Dr J…

    Reply
  31. Dr. J

    Well said!

    Working out a ton is a relative term. I don’t think humans were designed to lay around, but to be a moving, life experiencing creature.

    Reply
  32. Philip123

    I am not going to take a position on high carb/low carb diet.
    But I would just point out that there is one business related bias towards a high carb diet that I don’t see discussed much. That is fats and meats turn rancid. When you consider the creation of trans-fats again it was too improve shelf life, but even without trans-fats it is easier to distribute and store crackers or bread or rice than meats or fats. They don’t require refrigeration and they last longer before going bad. So for a large agricultural concern it would seem to me they have a vested interest in promoting a high carb diet, though I may be reading into the situation overly much

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  33. Spectra

    Human beings eat carbs because we were designed to be fairly active on a day-to-day basis. We’ve outsmarted our bodies by creating all sorts of technologies that do everything for us so we can sit on our keesters all day. Those of us that choose to get OFF our duffs and move during the day can eat carbs/need to eat carbs so they have the energy to do things. I work out quite a bit, so yes, I need complex carbs to fuel my workouts and give myself energy. I don’t eat a lot of simple carbs…I think that’s the key to it all.

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  34. ArrowSmith

    You can do that because you work out a ton.

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  35. ArrowSmith

    Sure in Asia carbohydrates are a staple(rice), but they MOVE a lot more! We eat carbs and don’t move!

    Reply
  36. Jody - Fit at 52

    I think it comes down to what is right for you. We all work differently. This is not for me as I prefer to eat a variety of real foods & healthy carbs including my healthy breads, oats etc.

    I know people that thrive on a lower carb diet but I know more that can’t handle it.

    Once again, it comes down to what works for you & brings the results you want but keeps you healthy as well. A trip to the doc & keeping track of all the “important numbers” will track that.

    Reply
  37. J. Foster

    True, but I think you’ll find that most of the world consumes carbohydrates as a staple. The Inuit are a very small exception to that rule.

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  38. dobner

    I think that the Atkins is a great “launch pad” type of food plan. It gets you headed in a weight loss direction, but long-term, I think it is not establishing good habits.

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  39. Mitch

    I love eating meat but I could never go on the atkins diet. I like eating a well balanced diet.

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  40. Ryan

    Calling Atkins a “restrictive diet” is relative. If you were an Eskimo in the Arctic, following a vegan diet would be restrictive. Atkins is only “restrictive” with respect to American culture.

    Reply