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Is the Atkins Diet a High Fat Diet?

Posted Sep 30 2010 12:33pm
Drop into any low-carb diet board or egroup and you'll soon hear the Atkins Diet described as being a high-fat diet. But the truth of that description depends on who you ask, and who you want to believe.

Those who are entering the diet for the first time do find a great metabolic advantage, initially, while the body discovers and learns how to use an alternative metabolic pathway it hasn't used before. In the process, it does exactly what Dr. Atkins claimed: sneaks calories out of the body through incompletely burned ketones, a by-product of the breakdown of fats in the liver.

Hence Dr. Atkins advice in the 2002 version of the diet while introducing the dieter to the initial phase of Induction was that "liberal amounts of fats and oils are permitted." However, eventually the body learns to use this alternative pathway to best advantage and begins milking each and every ketone for every molecule of energy it can. At which point, the state of being keto adapted contains little to no metabolic advantage.

If following the program, as written, most dieters would be part-way up the carb ladder by that time, and would have learned how to make more healthy food choices, learned their own carb tolerance level for losing body fat, and would be consuming less dietary fat than they were initially. However, the honest truth is that few dieters do the Atkins plan by the book, which is why there is so much misinformation circulating among the low-carb diet groups these days.

If you listen to what the greater majority of individuals say on these groups, you'd easily be led to believe that the Atkins Diet is a high-fat diet, (must be a high-fat diet, in fact), because fat is the miracle nutrient that makes it work. Having trouble sticking with the diet? Add more fat. Stalled for a few weeks? Add more fat. Can't get rid of sugar and carbohydrate cravings? Add more fat.

No matter what the problem is, the answer is always to add more fat.

I've had a knee-jerk reaction to that line of thinking for awhile now; partly because I personally have not found that fact or advice to be true. But also because I knew I'd seen a quote somewhere where Dr. Atkins himself had proclaimed his diet to not be a high-fat diet.

Well, I ran into that quote a couple of days ago, in a book published in 1981 called "Dr. Atkins' Nutrition Breakthrough: How to Treat Your Medical Condition Without Drugs." I thought I'd share it, because it flat-out contradicts what the greater majority of low-carb folks believe.

Considering this quote comes from a time when the Atkins Diet contained very little "green," it's particularly enlightening
"Those of you who read my first book, Dr. Atkins' Diet Revolution, know what diet to follow -- there was only one. Millions of dieters simply called it the Atkins Diet. It was a very low carbohydrate reducing diet (not a high-fat diet, as many of my nonreading critics asserted)."

Now consider that this was said in 1981 when the original form of the Atkins' Diet was all there was: meat and eggs, 2 cups (per day) of loosely packed salad (made with various forms of lettuce, cucumber, celery, and radishes only) and dressed with oil and vinegar, 4-ounces of hard yellow cheese, 4 teaspoons heavy cream per day, diet gelatin, powdered or regular mustard, worcestershire sauce, soy sauce, the juice of 1 lemon, herbs and spices with no sugar, and sugar substitutes of the day. No catsup and no tomato products allowed.

While 1/2 cup vegetables (including tomatoes), cottage cheese, nuts, and berries were later added depending upon the dieter's tolerance for carbs, the original Atkins' Induction was a severely limited diet. A pat of butter was allowed on top of your steak, or some mayonnaise mixed into chicken or tuna salad or smeared on top of salmon, and a little oil was allowed to be mixed with vinegar to dress the salad -- but that's about all the extra fats there were.

This design was intentional. According to Dr. Atkins
"One of the big reasons why this diet works so successfully is because you eat protein and fat. And you eat them in just about the sixty to forty proportions in which they usually occur together in nature: in a reasonably lean cut of beef for example." (From Dr. Atkins' Diet Revolution: The Famous Vogue Superdiet Explained in Full)

Hmmm. Nothing like what is preached within the low-carb community today, is it. Folks read to eat protein and fat, then stop reading (or listening) before they get to the part that describes how they are supposed to do that: by eating reasonably lean cuts of beef, and consuming fat and protein in the proportion it is found in nature.

As originally written, the Atkins' Diet was not a high-fat diet, nor was it ever intended to be such. Low-carb products and high-fat, homemade low-carb recipes and treats are all modern-day additions to the diet Dr. Atkins personally used with his overweight clients.

Now granted, fats help with blood sugar control, allow a bit more variety to the diet, and help to keep dieting from being such a hardship. They make a diet livable and contribute essential fatty acids necessary for normal metabolic function. However, they were never intended to be abused to the extent that most low-carb dieters abuse them today. They were originally intended to be a helpmeet; not a diet mainstay.

The bottom line is that once a dieter becomes keto adapted, all of the calories in the diet matters, especially fat calories, because their non-carb status causes them to be overlooked. So if struggling with your current weight-loss plan, take a little advice from Dr. Atkins and look at your fats consumption. Are you eating them in the same proportions found in nature, or are you eating them mostly in low-carb products and high-fat recipes?

You just might be surprised to find that you're eating far more calories than you think.
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