Atkins Diet: Is the Low-Carb Weight Loss Plan Good for You?

The Atkins Diet is one of the long-standing low-carbohydrate diets out there. If you’re planning to try it out for weight loss, be aware of the risks.

Foods usually recommended by the Atkins Diet laid out on grey background

With the new year still upon us, health and wellness companies have renewed their efforts in promoting weight loss programs, like the Atkins Diet. Unfortunately, with Malaysia being rather off-track when it comes to obesity and diabetes, many Malaysians will sign up for diet plans that promise a slimmer physique and healthier body.

However, before you try the Atkins Diet approach to weight loss, make sure you understand the risks if you go overboard with restricting carbohydrates and consuming high levels of proteins and fats. 

History of the Atkins Diet  

The Atkins Diet was first introduced in the 1970s by Dr. Robert Atkins in the USA. While initially not met with much enthusiasm, the low-carbohydrate diet and weight loss brand gained traction in the 1990s. It’s based on the fact that our body breaks down carbohydrates into simple sugars. That in turn will get stored as fat, causing excessive weight gain and other ailments. 

Sometimes referred to by adherents as the “original keto diet”, the Atkins Diet does indeed belong among diets that can help with weight loss. It forces the body into ketosis, where the body burns fat for energy, resulting in short-term fat loss.

In the past two decades, the Atkins Diet brand has refined its approach by dividing the program into four phases. Each phase slowly introduces more supposedly sustainable levels of carbohydrate restriction.

It is worth noting that careful macronutrient manipulation to effect rapid fat loss can only work under strict medical surveillance and in clinical settings. Research is still inconclusive on whether low-carbohydrate diets like the Atkins Diet have sustainable health-improving and weight maintenance effects in the long term. Even today, when it enjoys a renewed and faithful audience, experts continue to debate its long-term health merits and risks. 

How the Atkins Diet May End Up in Practice 

While some swear by the Atkins Diet, the jury is still up on whether this weight loss diet plan can be considered a sustainable healthy lifestyle approach. The basic tenet still focuses on restriction rather than guidance in nutrition. Also, there is little focus on any other lifestyle choices to complement what one eats and doesn’t. Examples like regular exercises and stress management are two very important things. Some behaviours that can result from trying to adhere to the Atkins Diet are: 

Over-consuming proteins and fats

The Atkins Diet is not a low-calorie diet, so it still requires that adherents meet their daily caloric requirement. While the focus is on carbohydrate restriction, the program guides followers to consume their calories primarily from proteins and fats instead.

Many on the Atkins Diet claim that one can eat as much protein and fats with no restrictions because these foods do not spike blood sugar levels. This lack of understanding in nutrition balancing can sometimes result in too much consumption of meats and fatty foods. 

Under-consuming fibres and nutrients found in plant-based foods 

Additionally, many high-fibre, healthy foods are also carbohydrate-heavy foods like vegetables and fruits. Many healthy whole grain foods are also carbohydrates. When restricting carbohydrates under the Atkins Diet regimen, you may end up not getting enough fibre in our digestive system. You may also lack nutrients like electrolytes that are critical to many body functions. 

Over-consuming processed foods  

Some followers of the Atkins Diet also claim that the diet supports the consumption of proteins and fats regardless of their source. Recently, the official Atkins Diet framework has emphasised the preference for whole foods over processed foods. Although, it does also sell its brand of meal replacement bars that have many processed ingredients inside them. But in practice, there is the danger of rationalising that if a food is a protein or a fat, you can eat them as much as you want.

What Are the Health Risks of an Atkins Diet if Done Wrongly? 

Woman facing the other way while holding her middle back with a superimposed illustration of kidneys
Consuming more protein than your kidneys can handle can result in kidney disease

Interrupting the balance of metabolic processes 

Carbohydrate is the body’s main energy source. Some of it is immediately broken down into glucose for energy. Meanwhile, the rest is stored in our liver and muscles in the form of glycogen for a quick energy boost. Moreover, our brain prefers glucose as its energy source. Low blood glucose can lead to symptoms like dizziness, fatigue, confusion, and even a coma.

Ketosis is one of the desired effects of going low on carbohydrates and has been promoted as a potential strategy to manage type 2 diabetes. However, lacking professional guidance while on the Atkins Diet could result in not realising that there are too many ketones in your system. That results in ketoacidosis, which can be fatal for diabetic individuals. 

Damage to critical organs  

Overdoing the Atkins Diet can also damage critical organs. Long term low glucose levels in the blood can cause the body to deplete glycogen stores. Unfortunately, this may damage the liver and muscles. Additionally, the pancreas will also respond drastically to the constant hypoglycaemia.

By secreting large amounts of glucagon which can convert non-sugar substances into glucose, the pancreas may end up getting damaged in its effort to increase glucose levels in the body.

Some studies warn that excess consumption of proteins can overwhelm your kidneys; long term high protein intake can result in early damage to your kidneys.

What Does TCM Say About the Atkins Diet?

Dried and sliced astragalus roots in a decorative wooden bowl next to a teapot
Astragalus root, also known as huang qi (黄芪), is one of the herbs in Traditional Chinese Medicine often used in herbal Kidney tonic formulations.

We spoke to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) physician, Dr. Chu I Ta to get his perspective on the Atkins Diet. “Too little or too much of any of the macronutrients our body needs can backfire and result in harmful effects on our health. Others in the medical community have also raised caution when it comes to restrictive diets like the Atkins Diet,” he cautions.

TCM does not typically favour the Atkins Diet because of the tendency to consume too little carbohydrate and excess proteins, especially from animal sources. Meat carries warm properties, according to TCM, leading to excess Stomach Fire. When you reintroduce carbohydrates into your diet, it can cause excessive meal consumption.

“People may gain weight more easily after they stop Atkins Diet,” Physician Chu warns.

Excessive protein consumption can also change the body constitution to Heat Damp, stagnating critical organ systems like the Lungs and Digestive Tract, leading to over-production of phlegm, digestive issues, and headaches, among other symptoms. 

However, TCM promotes a healthy diet that doesn’t restrict important things like vegetables. So, you don’t have to worry about overeating. 

“If you still want to try the Atkins Diet, be sure to take extra good care of your critical organs. For example, to help protect your Kidneys, you can take the kidney tonic herbal soup formulation,” he suggests.

Ultimately, fundamental nutrition and common sense still apply to any diet. Especially ones that started as a fad like the Atkins Diet. Focusing on restricting carbohydrates can inadvertently result in malnutrition and potentially damage critical organs and systems.

While this low-carbohydrate diet may work for some, it is not for everyone. Before you sign up for it, consider the risks and be sure to consult your healthcare practitioner first. 

References

  1. Global Nutrition Report. 2022. Malaysia: The burden of malnutrition at a glance.  [online]  [Accessed 5 January 2022]. 
  2. Cleveland Clinic. 2021. What Is the Atkins Diet and Is It Healthy?. [online]  [Accessed 5 January 2022]. 
  3. The Nutrition Source (Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health). 2022. Low-Carbohydrate Diets. [online] [Accessed 5 January 2022]. 
  4. Frontiers in Nutrition. 2021. A Clinical Perspective of Low Carbohydrate Ketogenic Diets: A Narrative Review. [online] [Accessed 5 January 2022]. 
  5. Journal of the American Society for Nephrology. 2020. The Effects of High-Protein Diets on Kidney Health and Longevity. [online] [Accessed 5 January 2022]. 
  6. Frontiers in Pharmacology. 2021. The Use of Chinese Yang/Qi-Invigorating Tonic Botanical Drugs/Herbal Formulations in Ameliorating Chronic Kidney Disease by Enhancing Mitochondrial Function. [online] [Accessed 5 January 2022]. 

Share this article on

Was This Article Useful to You?

Related Articles

Dried fish maw placed in a wooden basket
Wellness & Nutrition

Fish Maw: The Secret to Looking and Feeling Great

Yes, a fish’s swim bladder is a popular delicacy! Perfect for numerous recipes, fish maw is packed with a multitude of essential nutrients.

Read More
A young woman looking at her reflection in the mirror, looking upset and touching her cheek with her finger
Wellness & Nutrition

Solving Skin Problems: Natural Remedies to Try

Go beyond skin deep and discover common skin problems. Here’s how to remedy these conditions naturally and boost your overall health at the same time.

Read More
Woman lifts her hand to say no to a sizzling steak.
Wellness & Nutrition

Vegan vs Vegetarian: Key Differences and Benefits

Vegan vs vegetarian – these two plant-based diets are recommended for their health benefits. What’s the difference, and should you try either of them?

Read More

The contents of the All Things Health website are for informational and educational purposes only.
Our website is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.