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The Atkins diet promotes weight loss through a low-carbohydrate diet. Backers of the Atkins diet say it can also prevent or improve many health conditions, including high blood pressure and heart disease.

WebMD takes a closer look at the Atkins diet and helps you decide if it is right for you.

The Atkins Diet: How It Works

The Atkins diet has evolved since its creation in 1972. But the main feature of the diet is still the same: Lose weight and improve health by eating a low-carbohydrate diet that consists of:

  • Protein
  • Vegetables
  • Healthy fat

The diet has an Atkins Food Guide Pyramid that helps explain the Atkins method. At the top of the pyramid are foods that you can eat a little of -- but only after you have lost weight. These include whole grains such as:

  • Barley
  • Oats
  • Rice

Missing from the Atkins Food Pyramid are "white" foods -- forbidden foods that you should avoid. These include:

  • White sugar
  • White rice
  • White bread
  • White potatoes
  • Pasta made with white flour

You don't have to count calories on the Atkins diet as long as you are reasonable with portion sizes. The only thing you have to calculate are carbohydrates. Specifically you need to count Net Carbs -- the total grams of carbohydrates minus grams of fiber.

Atkins Diet Phases

The Atkins diet consists of phases. The amount of Net Carbs you eat each day varies based on the phase.

Phase 1 -- Induction. This is the strictest part of the diet. You must avoid all:

  • Fruit
  • Bread
  • Grains
  • Starchy vegetables
  • Dairy products (except cheese and butter)
  • Alcohol

You eat only 20 grams of Net Carbs daily. That's significantly less than the FDA recommendation of 300 grams of carbohydrates daily.

The goal of phase 1 is to rev up your body's ability to burn fat. And because you lose the most weight during this phase, it is designed to motivate you to stick with the diet.

Phase 2 -- Ongoing weight loss (OWL). During phase 2, you slowly add some whole food carbohydrates back to your diet, such as:

  • Berries
  • Nuts
  • Yogurt

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