New Atkins for a New You - The New Atkins Diet
Reviewed by Dietitian, Juliette Kellow BSc RD
“Lose up to 15lbs in 2 weeks,” screams the cover of the new Atkins Diet. With a promise like that it’s no surprise that New Atkins New You is flying off bookshelves faster than most of us can eat a jam doughnut. And with assurances that this time round the diet is easy and healthy, it’s unsurprising than many critics are even considering giving it a go!
The multi-million selling book is written by three doctors – Drs Stephen Phinney and Jeff Volek, both of whom are members of the Atkins Science Advisory Board, and Dr Eric Westman. The aim of the book is simple: to carry on the legacy of the late Dr Robert Atkins by promoting a new, updated version of the Atkins diet he made so famous.
So with the words ‘New’ beckoning me, I began reading with some optimism, expecting to find that I could eat more carbs than on the original diet combined with a greater emphasis on cutting down on fat, especially saturated fat.
Sadly I was disappointed. Within just a few chapters it became apparent I was simply reading a combined version of the Dr Atkins New Diet Revolution written by Dr Atkins himself and The All-New Atkins Advantage Diet written by Dr Stuart Trager and Colette Heimowitz.
True, the latest book includes less science and more practical advice to help people follow the diet, but ultimately the principles behind New Atkins New You remain unchanged.
New Atkins New You in Detail...
Just like the original plan, the diet is divided into the same four phases and follows the same guidelines for the quantity of carbohydrate allowed.
Phase 1 - Induction
Should be followed for two weeks, although you can skip this phase if you have less than a stone to lose or follow a vegetarian diet. As with the original plan, during this phase, carbohydrate intake is limited to just 20g a day (healthy eating guidelines recommend eating around 230g a day) so bread, potatoes, pasta, rice, milk, fruit and many veg are off limits.
Phase two – Ongoing Weight Loss
Lets you increase carbs by 5g a day for a week at a time until you find your Critical Carbohydrate Level for Losing Weight, in other words, the maximum amount of carbs you can eat each day to shift those pounds. For some people, this may only be 25g carbohydrate, for others it might be 80g.
It’s still considerably lower than most of us are used to and allows only for the introduction of nuts and seeds followed by berries, cherries and melon, then natural yoghurt and cottage cheese, finishing off with pulses if you are able to lose weight on a higher carb intake. Most fruits, bread, potatoes, rice, pasta and breakfast cereals are still off limits!
Phase Three – Pre-maintenance
Beckons when you have just 10lb left to lose. During this phase, you increase your carb intake by 10g a day for a week at a time, until you reach and maintain your weight for a month. You can start to include small amounts of whole milk or buttermilk (not reduced-fat versions), more fruits, then starchy vegetables such as beetroot, carrots, sweetcorn, parsnips, potatoes, squash, swede and sweet potatoes. Wholegrains such as barley, bulgar wheat, couscous, oats, quinoa and brown rice conclude the list.
Phase Four – Lifetime Maintenance
Once your weight has stabilised for a month, you enter the final phase –Lifetime Maintenance – to maintain your weight for life. For most people, this means consuming less than 100g carbs – still well below the guideline daily amount of 230g carbs – effectively resulting in a low-carb diet for life.
What’s Different in New Atkins?
So just what has changed and what is new? Ultimately, New Atkins New You sets out to respond to the negative criticism that’s been thrown at the diet over the years by addressing the key concerns that health professionals have highlighted.
- New Atkins New You gives far more detailed information and lists of the vegetables that can be eaten right from the start of the plan.
- Included in the daily 20g net carbs, it recommends that 12-15g come from ‘foundation vegetables meaning it’s now relatively easy to get 5-a-day!
Alfafa sprouts, artichokes, avocado, asparagus, aubergine, bamboo shoots, Brussels sprouts, beansprouts, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, celery, celeriac, chicory, courgette, cucumber, endive, French/green beans, fresh herbs, fennel, kale, leeks, lettuce, mangetout, mushrooms, mixed leaves, olives, pak choi, peppers, radish, rocket, onions, spinach, sugar snap peas, tomatoes and watercress.
As an example, you could eat the following in a day:
- ½ avocado –1.8g carbs
- 80g broccoli –1.7g carbs
- 80g cauliflower –1.2g carbs
- Salad made from 80g iceberg lettuce, 1 tomato, 6 radishes and ½ red pepper – 6.6g carbs
- 80g red cabbage – 2.1g carbs
This totals 13.4g carbs so it’s well within the daily carb allowance but easily provides 5-a-day.
It’s good to see the plan places more emphasis on the vegetables that can be eaten so it’s easier for dieters to achieve 5-a-day. It’s worth bearing in mind though, that health professionals agree we should eat a rainbow of colours to ensure a good range of nutrients.
Many of the veg allowed are green with fewer other colours. In particular, no orange or yellow vegetables are included. These tend to be good sources of carotenoids such as beta-carotene, which the body uses to make vitamin A (although green veg do still include this important antioxidant). Adding more variety also helps to prevent diet boredom from setting in.
- New Atkins New You gives lots of details of studies showing the new Atkins diet is a suitable eating plan to for life providing additional practical advice on how to achieve this.
- Most health professionals would agree that this remains a fad diet as it recommends avoiding an entire food group.
- It recommends that a daily multivitamin with minerals, including calcium and magnesium be taken - not something people need to do if they’re eating a balanced diet including a wide range of foods.
Despite the scientific studies cited in the book, we still believe the Atkins diet is a quick fix, fad diet and not one that’s sustainable for life. Ironically though, the book is still selling itself partly on the promise that you can “Lose up to 15lb in 2 weeks”, which most people, including health professionals, would consider to be a quick fix.
Health professionals in the UK continue to recommend a balanced, varied diet that avoids cutting out major groups of food and results in a slow, steady weight loss of no more than 2lb a week.
The British Dietetic Association provides information on how to spot a fad diet and recommends staying away from diets that:
- promise a quick fix
- suggest easy, rapid weight less of more than 2lb a week
- promote the avoidance or severe limitation of a whole food group such as carbohydrate foods or dairy foods (and suggest large doses of vitamin and mineral supplements as a replacement)
- make claims that sound too good to be true.
In our opinion, the Atkins diet does all of the above and so can be considered a fad diet. As for following a low-carb diet forever? Well, health professionals are certainly starting to recommend that we eat smaller portions of carbs and opt for healthier, unprocessed ones to help control our weight. But the bulk of our diet should still be made up of fruit, veg, potatoes, pulses and wholegrain carbs such as wholemeal bread, brown rice, wholegrain cereals, wholewheat cereals and other grains such as barley, quinoa and bulgar wheat.
- New Atkins New You explains that consuming carbs makes us retain water so switching to fat burning (by cutting carbs) has a diuretic effect meaning we excrete more salt along with fluid. It’s this loss in fluid and salt that leaves us with unpleasant symptoms.
- The solution? The book recommends drinking more water. But it also recommends adding half a teaspoon of salt to your diet each day.
Drinking more water is great but, adding salt to your diet? In the UK, much work has been carried out by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) to raise awareness of the importance of reducing daily intakes of salt to no more than 6g a day from an initial high of around 9.5g. It therefore seems incredible – and highly inappropriate – that a diet plan should actually be recommending an increase in salt, and a considerable increase at that!
Food manufacturers have also been working hard to reduce the amount of salt in their products so that as a nation, we find it easier to limit our intake to no more than 6g a day. The key advice is to ditch the salt pot altogether, to eat fewer salty foods and to check the salt content of different products and go for those with the lower salt content.
Half a teaspoon (2.5g) of salt provides more than 40% of the maximum recommended amount of 6g – and so is not advised. One of the better aspects of the original Atkins diet was the fact that cutting out certain carb-rich foods such as bread, some cereals, baked goods, crisps, ready-made sauces, ready-meals, pizzas and takeaways meant a reduction in salt intakes. The advice to add more salt back into the diet is not something that health professionals would recommend and should be avoided.
- New Atkins New You provides more detail on how vegetarians can still follow the new diet.
- More information on the non-animal sources of protein that can be eaten such as eggs, cheese, soya products, nuts, seeds, rice cheeses, pulses and higher-protein grains such as quinoa.
- You can also start the diet in phase 2 or 3 so you can eat more carbs.
- There are 12 weekly meal plans for vegetarians or vegans based on different carbohydrate intakes.
People following vegetarian and even vegan diets have now been catered for more fully in this diet, which traditionally has been promoted at meat lovers. However, with a restriction on the amount of fruit, veg, pasta, rice, bread and pulses that can be eaten – which often form the mainstay of many non-meat eater’s diets – diet boredom may quickly set in.
- New Atkins New You provides more extensive lists of the foods that can be eaten. For example, rather than sticking to beef, lamb and pork, ingredients such as duck, pheasant, poussin, quail, veal, venison and even ostrich are identified as foods that can be included freely.
- Coffee is no longer limited to just one cup a day as new research indicates it may mildly help to burn fat.
- Alcohol can now be introduced in phase 2.
- The book provides 24 weekly meal plans based on different carbohydrate intakes (including 12 for vegetarians and vegans).
- There’s eating out advice for different cuisines.
- Lots of low-carb recipes for sauces, dressings and marinades.
- There is more choice as to which phase of the new Atkins diet you start with depending on factors like your age, your activity levels and the amount of weight you want to lose etc.
- For example, if you have less than one stone to lose, you can start in Phase 2, whereas if you are a yo-yo dieter it’s better to start in Phase 1.
There is certainly a lot more practical advice to make the diet easier to follow.
- New Atkins New You explains that according to research saturated fat on its own doesn’t increase the risk of heart disease highlighting that saturated fat only poses a risk to heart health when it’s combined with high intakes of carbs.
- Fat is the primary source of fuel for the body when there are no carbs to utilise, dieters burn more saturated fat and store less of it. So if carb intakes are low, there’s no reason to worry about saturated fat. In fact, the book goes as far as saying, “This way of eating can significantly reduce your chances of developing heart disease.”
It’s still widely accepted that high intakes of saturated (bad) fat – without much concern as to some other components of your diet – are linked to heart disease and so the high intake of saturated fat in this plan remains controversial amongst health professionals.
There’s still no advice to reduce fat in the new Atkins diet book. It’s recommended that a typical days intake of fat might come from 2tbsp oil, 1tbsp butter, 25-30g cream, 55g cheese, 2-3 eggs, 2-3 servings of meat, poultry or fish, 10 olives or ½ avocado and 55g nuts or seeds (after Induction). The book also actively recommends avoiding a low-fat Atkins diet, saying that fat aids satiety and provides sufficient calories to prevent metabolism from slowing down.
In the past 18 months, the Food Standards Agency has been promoting the importance of eating fewer foods that are rich in saturated fat to help reduce our risk of heart disease and has been working with manufacturers to encourage them to reduce the amount of saturates in their products. Incidentally, the typical day’s intake of fat (based on 2tbsp sunflower oil, 1tbsp butter, 30g double cream, 55g Cheddar, 2 eggs, 175g rump steak, 1 chicken breast with skin, ½ avocado and 55g mixed nuts) provides 163g fat and 56g saturates – that’s more than double the recommended daily fat intake of 70g and almost three times the recommended daily saturated fat intake of 20g.
It’s also important to remember that high fat foods tend to be the highest in calories – the above intake of food alone provides almost 2,000 calories so it’s hard to see how weight loss would occur on an intake like this. To guarantee a slow, steady weight loss, sticking to around 1,300-1,500 calories is ideal – and one of the easiest ways to do this is to cut back on the amount of unecessary and unhealthy fat in the diet.
- New Atkins New You claims this isn’t a high protein diet but that it’s based on an optimal protein intake. It also refutes claims that high protein diets can damage kidneys or negatively affect the bones through increased calcium excretion saying that studies on this subject are limited or flawed.
- The Book provides more detailed information on the quantities of protein that dieters should consume based on their height. For example, a woman of 5ft 6in should have between 75-156g protein a day – the range is wide allowing dieters to choose the amount that suits their needs.
- It also acknowledges that if weight loss is slow, protein intakes may need to be cut back a little.
The suggested intakes of protein are still much higher than those recommended for adults in the UK. For example, the guideline daily amount of protein for women is 45g and for men, 55g. Research increasingly shows that good intakes of protein can help to improve satiety – that feeling of fullness at the end of a meal, which can help to prevent us snacking. So eating protein-rich foods with each meal is certainly a good idea.
Further research also shows that protein combined with fibre is actually the perfect hunger-fighting combination. Eggs with wholegrain toast for breakfast, a large chicken salad and fruit for lunch, and a beef and vegetable stir-fry with brown rice for dinner are great meals for keeping hunger at bay.
There’s not much new about New Atkins New You. Essentially the diet plan is identical to the original one – it just includes more advice on how to put the diet into practice. It certainly addresses some of the original concerns about the diet. Nevertheless, there’s still a long way to go before most health professionals are convinced that eating more saturated fat is a good idea. The advice to boost salt intakes will almost certainly be met with resistance from health organisations and pressure groups, too – and rightly so. If you’re stuck in a dieting rut, it might be worth giving this plan a go for a few weeks to see if it gets the scales moving in the right direction. But ultimately, if you want to lose weight safely and sensibly – and keep it off in the long term – you’re better off following a healthy, calorie-restricted diet that’s lower in fat but includes good amounts of protein, fats and carbs.
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