The truth behind five low-carb diet myths.
Whether you are new to Atkins or have been following it for some time, no doubt you may have dealt with your share of diet naysayers who are determined to undermine your hard-earned results with multiple reasons why low-carb diets are unhealthy or unrealistic to follow for the long term. It’s time to arm yourself with the facts! Read on for my responses to five of these popular low-carb myths.
1) Myth: The Atkins Diet contains too much saturated fats, and saturated fats are to blame for a host of health problems, including heart disease.
Fact: Saturated fats, which are typically solid at room temperature and are found in meat, poultry, dairy products and palm and coconut oils, may be beneficial when consumed as part of a balanced intake of natural fats. When you restrict your carbs, your body makes less saturated fat while burning more of it. Research also shows that during weight loss phases of Atkins, if you eat saturated fats, the fewer carbs you eat and the more you reduce saturated fat levels in your blood. When it comes to Atkins, the only dietary fat you should truly avoid are trans fats. An increased intake of trans fats is associated with an increased heart attack risk, and most recently has been show to increase the body’s level of inflammation. Trans fats are typically found in foods you should be avoiding already, including fried foods, baked goods, cookies, crackers, candies, snack foods, icings and vegetable shortenings. As long as a product contains less than 0.5 grams of trans fat per serving, a manufacturer can claim its product is free of trans fats. To be sure there are no trans fats in a product, check the list of ingredients, where trans fats are listed as “shortening” or “hydrogenated vegetable oil” or a “partially hydrogenated vegetable oil.” If you see any of these words in the ingredients list, just say no. You should also avoid deep-fried foods in fast-food and other restaurants.
2) Myth: Atkins is a high-protein diet, and too much protein causes kidney problems.
Fact: While you’ll be eating plenty of protein, Atkins’ typical intake of 12 to 18 ounces of protein a day is not considered a high-protein diet. And most concerns about eating too much protein are unfounded in that they are based on limited or flawed research. For example, the myth that a high protein intake can damage kidneys probably arose from the fact that people who already have advanced kidney disease can’t clear away the waste from even moderate protein intake. There’s absolutely no evidence that any healthy person has experienced kidney damage from eating the amount of protein consumed on Atkins. And, researchers have shown, that, in fact, eating more protein results in increased weight loss and fat loss compared to diets lower in protein. This is most likely the result of increased calorie burn and satiety (fullness) after eating protein compared to eating carbs. Based on most heights and gender, it’s recommended that you consume 4 to 6 ounces of protein at each of your meals each day. If you are a tall male, you might want to go with 8 ounces of protein, but the 4- to 6-ounce range should work for the majority of folks. The ideal amount of protein should make you full after your meal (not uncomfortably stuffed, though), but hungry in time for your next scheduled meal.
3) Myth: You don’t eat any vegetables on Atkins.
Fact: Atkins followers actually eat more servings of vegetables at every phase of the program than do most other Americans. In addition to protein and healthy natural fats, certain vegetables are the foundation of the Atkins way of eating. Vegetables do contain carbohydrates but, in most cases, these are exactly the kinds of carbs you should be consuming. But the key word is “most.”
Rather than promoting the standard dietary fiction that all vegetables are equally healthful and should be consumed in unlimited servings, the Atkins way draws distinctions: A serving of spinach is better than a serving of peas; broccoli is more health-protective than potatoes.
Because controlling carbs will stabilize blood sugar, most people doing Atkins limit the amount of vegetables they eat. Eating too many veggies, especially starchy ones such as corn and potatoes, can undermine your weight-loss and weight-maintenance efforts. To spend your carbohydrate grams wisely, choose vegetables that provide the most antioxidant protection in combination with the fewest grams of carbs.
During Phase 1, you’ll eat 12 to 15 net carbs coming in the form of vegetables. Depending on which vegetables you choose, that can translate into 5 to 8 servings of certain vegetables each day, primarily salad greens and other raw salad ingredients. Here’s where you’ll find kale; Swiss chard; cancer-fighting cruciferous vegetables, such as broccoli and Brussels sprouts; beta-carotene-rich peppers and pumpkin; and lycopene-dense tomatoes, which help protect against prostate cancer.
Vegetables are an important and tasty part of Atkins. As you gradually increase the amount of allowable carbs and discover your personal carb balance during the next three phases, your veggie intake can continue to increase. In fact, you will even be able to start incorporating nuts, berries and certain fruits and grains in later phases as well. So go ahead and enjoy the rich diversity of vegetables. And tell all of those naysayers that this is one eating program that doesn’t make you choose between a healthy body and a shapely physique. With Atkins, you can have both!
4) Myth: Low-fat diets are better than low-carb diets like Atkins.
Fact: Not so fast. Research continues to show that a low-carb diet like Atkins is more effective for long-term weight loss (after the one- and two-year mark) than a conventional low-fat diet. In addition, it showed that a low-carb diet is beneficial and safe for people who are highly insulin resistant and have a higher intolerance to carbs. This is great news, because these are the people who need to keep carb consumption low for the long term to control the insulin resistance and carb intolerance. In addition, 13 randomized controlled trials showed significantly improved good “HDL” cholesterol, triglycerides and diastolic blood pressure over the low-fat diet. This meta-analysis supports previous findings showing low-carb diets are more effective than low-fat diets, but what’s even more important is that this meta-analysis showcases the efficacy of a diet like Atkins over time.
I am always pleased when new research comes out that supports the efficacy, safety and long-term sustainability of Atkins. So many of you have already experienced these positive benefits; when science continues to show that Atkins is a viable solution for reversing obesity and the risk factors associated with heart disease, hopefully health professionals will see this as a serious option to offer their obese patients as well.
5) Myth: The weight you lose on Atkins is all water weight, not fat.
Fact: Typically on any weight loss plan, including Phase 1 of Atkins, the weight you lose is primarily water (diuresis) during the first few days or even the first week. However, on a controlled carbohydrate plan with adequate dietary fat, after diuresis, your body switches from burning carbohydrates to primarily burning stored body fat—along with dietary fat—for energy, which results in weight loss. Moreover, the weight lost is mainly fat, not lean body mass. It’s worth repeating that studies have shown that despite the fact that more calories were consumed on a controlled carbohydrate program than on a low-fat program, the carb-controlled subjects lost more weight than did those on a low-fat program.