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Atkins Diet

Science Behind the Theory

The main idea behind the Atkins diet is to change your metabolism so that you burn fat for energy instead of glucose, a process called ketosis.

When you eat foods high in carbohydrates, such as refined sugar, your body turns it into glucose. Your body can only store a certain amount of glucose. So it burns it off first, leaving fat to accumulate in the body.

The theory goes that if you significantly cut back on the amount of carbohydrates you eat, your body will spend more time burning fat and you will lose weight.

Not only does the Atkins diet change your metabolism, studies show that eating more protein helps to curb appetite.

Does It Really Work and Is It Safe?

Studies have shown that people who stick to a low-carbohydrate diet like Atkins can lose weight.

A study in The Journal of the American Medical Association comparing diets found that women on the Atkins diet lost more weight and experienced more health benefits. After one year on the Atkins diet, people in the study lost an average of 10 pounds. They also had improved triglyceride levels and lower blood pressure. But experts say any diet that helps you lose weight will probably improve your cholesterol.

Since most studies on the Atkins diet last a year or less, researchers don't know if the health benefits from the diet are maintained and if the diet is safe for long-term use.

Many experts caution that eating a diet high in saturated fats can increase your risk of heart disease and cancer. And critics say the Atkins diet omits important nutrients such as vitamin C and potassium. People on the Atkins diet are encouraged to take an iron-free multivitamin and mineral supplement and an omega-3 supplement that contains fish oil.

The Atkins diet also goes against dietary guidelines put out by many health organizations and medical professionals, including the American Heart Association, the American Dietetic Association, and the American Cancer Society. These groups recommend a diet with more whole grains, fruit, vegetables, and lower saturated fats.

Always check with your doctor before starting a weight loss program, especially if you have certain health problems or if you take medications.

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WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Kimball Johnson, MD on November 22, 2012

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