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Atkins Diet

Level of Effort: Medium

You don't have to go to meetings or buy special foods. But you're probably going to have to make some big changes in your menus. 

You may notice that your breath has a distinct smell, due to the ketones your body makes. Some call that smell bad; Atkins said the smell is "not an offensive one." You may also have headaches and feel irritable.

Limitations:  Cutting out food groups, especially whole grains and dairy, really limits what you can eat. It also means your diet may be low in certain nutrients including fiber, calcium, potassium, and magnesium.

Cooking and shopping: You will need to count carbs and factor that into whatever you're cooking at home or ordering in a restaurant. You should read food labels and use the carbohydrate counter in the book.

The first phase of the diet may be challenging, since the list of foods you’re allowed to have is very limited. You may have to skip many of your favorite foods and treats.

You’ll also need to keep a close eye on your weight. Changes in your weight affect how many carbs you can have in your daily diet.

Packaged foods/meals: A variety of Atkins-branded products are available, but none are required.

In-person meetings? No.

Exercise: The Atkins plan recommends at least 30 minutes of exercise on most days of the week.

Does It Allow for Dietary Restrictions or Preferences?

Vegetarians and vegans:  The Atkins web site says the diet is “perfectly possible” for vegetarians, and “challenging … but not impossible” for vegans. The site offers options if you avoid animal foods. Beans and tofu are allowed. Vegans and vegetarians start out in the ongoing weight loss phase (skipping the first very low-carb phase).  The web site emphasizes legumes and soy foods (including tofu) for vegans, and soy and a small amount of legumes for vegetarians.

Gluten-free diet: The Atkins diet cuts back on carbs like bread. But it doesn't ban gluten. If you go on this diet and are trying to completely avoid gluten, you'll need to do more than pass on the bread basket; you should also read food labels to check for stealthy sources of gluten.

Low-salt diet: You should be able to limit your sodium on the diet, but check sodium on food labels.

What Else You Should Know

Cost: No major costs beyond shopping for your meals.

Support:  You do this diet on your own. The official Atkins diet web site has online forums, groups (like Vegetarians on Atkins), meal plans, and weight-loss tools. You may also sign up for a welcome kit that includes information and three Atkins bars.

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WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Maryann Tomovich Jacobsen, MS, RD on November 29, 2013

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