Happy Monday, Grazers!
Last week, we talked about all things Paleo – the benefits and downsides of the diet, and what we can learn from eating in the same way our cavemen ancestors did.
This week, we’re hitting the fast forward button and bringing ourselves to the 1970’s, where one diet began and managed to maintain relative popularity over the past 40 years. We’re talking about the Atkins diet – generally known to be the ‘original’ low-carbohydrate way of eating.
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The Atkins diet is founded on the basis that weight loss will take place when the body is forced to burn its fat stores for energy. Under normal circumstances, the body’s preferred fuel is glucose, which is mostly obtained from carbohydrates in the diet (e.g. grains and grain products, fruit, dairy and so on). These incoming carbohydrates are used as fuel, leaving the body’s fat stores untouched as long as enough carbohydrates are consumed (read: difficulties in losing weight).
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When the input of carbohydrates into the body is very restricted, however, the resulting lack of glucose makes the body burn fat as a fuel source instead, resulting in weight loss. This process is called ketosis, as compounds called ‘ketones’ are released during this fat-burning process.
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The Atkins diet is broken down into 4 phases, each allowing a gradually increasing intake of carbohydrates. The idea is to severely restrict carbohydrates in the initial stage of the diet, forcing the body into ketosis and generating quick weight loss. Carbohydrates are then slowly added back into the diet, until the point when weight gain occurs. This point is set as the threshold for carbohydrate consumption, and the dieter is encouraged not to go past this threshold to prevent weight regain.
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Consuming a low-carbohydrate diet has been shown to be an effective short-term weight loss strategy, and the diet tends to be easy to follow initially due to the suppression of appetite from the increased fat and protein consumed, as well as from the increase in the body’s ketone levels.
However, studies have shown that these results don’t last in the long term, as is the case with most other diets. This is likely due to multiple reasons:
The diet requires a lot of effort in counting the carbohydrate content of food to the exact gram and keeping within the set carbohydrate intake limits.
2) Very restrictive:
The diet is very restrictive in the amounts and types of carbohydrates allowed in the diet – added sugar is never allowed, putting many food and drink options off limits for good.
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3) Side effects:
The increase in body ketone production can cause side effects like nausea, headache, bad breath, and fatigue, which can be unpleasant. If ketosis is uncontrolled, it can also develop into ketoacidosis, a dangerous medical condition requiring immediate treatment.
4) Potential nutritional deficiencies:
Because most of the diet is spent in a ‘restrictive’ phase, there is a legitimate possibility of vitamin and mineral deficiencies which may require supplementation to correct.
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Thus, the Atkins diet appears to be more of a short-term solution for weight loss, rather than a sustainable, healthy, lifestyle change. It forces the body to function in a ‘starvation’ state of ketosis, which seems like an unnatural state to be in long-term. And, as with the case of the Paleo diet, it is also not very feasible for eating out in an Asian country where carbohydrates remain a mainstay of most dishes, and can be hidden in the breading or sauces of many seemingly low-carbohydrate foods.
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What then can we learn from the Atkins diet? We can adopt the practice of cutting out added sugars whenever possible, and instead focus on complex carbohydrates found in vegetables, whole grains, fresh fruit, and dairy. If weight loss is a goal, we can be careful not to go overboard with our carbohydrate (and overall calorie) consumption to leave room for the use of body fat as fuel. We can ensure that we are eating enough fiber, protein and healthy fat in our meals to keep us full until the next meal comes around. Lastly, we can celebrate the abundance of variety that a healthy balanced diet can give us, and appreciate the pleasure of eating the foods we enjoy, as long as it is in moderation.
Inspired by the above principles for a healthy diet? Shop for some Amazin’ Nuts today for a low-carbohydrate snack that is high in protein, healthy fat, and deliciousness!