Northwestern University School of Medicine

Dr. Atkins’ New Diet Revolution

Northwestern Nutrition Fact Sheet
Dr. Atkins’ New Diet Revolution

The Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine Department of Preventive Medicine was established in 1972 and has since played a vital role in promoting health education and public policy through its teaching programs, research, and administration

Authors Background:

Physician who is the director of Atkins Center for Complementary
Medicine. Since nutrition is not a required course in most US medical schools, the author has NO formal training in nutrition especially as it relates to medical weight loss treatments. Atkins provides misleading statements regarding the relationship between food metabolism and weight control. This author supports his statements with anecdotal case studies, not scientific research data. Additionally, Atkins has no evidence of the long-term impact of his diet on maintenance of weight loss and physical side effects of prolonged ketosis.

Diet Claims:

Carbohydrates, especially sugar, are the dietary culprits for weight gain, obesity, hyperinsulinemia, diabetes and other chronic diseases. Carbohydrates are severely restricted to < 20 grams/day, which is equal to that found in a large slice of bread. Metabolically, once carbohydrates are eliminated from the diet, the liver converts fats into glucose, producing a state of ketosis. The resulting formation of ketone bodies suppresses appetite and promotes breakdown of body fat for fuel. Behaviorally, a low carbohydrate diet will help the dieter overcome addiction to sugary foods. Very high protein and fat intake delays gastric emptying, thereby, satisfies hunger, minimizes food cravings and restricts caloric consumption.

Foods Allowed:

All types of meats, poultry, seafood, eggs, cheese, butter, cream, oil, nuts, few non-starchy vegetables, artificial sweeteners.

Foods Restricted:

Bread, pasta, cereals, rice, fruits, juices, most vegetables, sweets, snack chips and dairy products.

**Sample Menu:

2 large eggs, scrambled with
2 slice regular bacon
1 cup decaffeinated coffee

Bacon Cheeseburger-
6 ounces 85% lean ground beef
1 slice regular American cheese
2 slices regular bacon
No bun
Tossed salad, no dressing
16 ounces Seltzer water

3 ounces cocktail shrimp
1 tablespoon regular mayo
1 cup chicken broth
6 ounces pork center loin roast
1 cup tossed salad, no dressing
Dessert: 1 cup diet jello with 2 tablespoons real whip cream

Nutrition Analysis of Sample Menu:*

Calories: 1516
Protein: 150 g 40.0% calories
Total fat: 94 g 55.8% calories
Carbohydrate: 10.3 g 4.2% calories

Saturated fat: 34.1g
Cholesterol: 936.4 mg
Sodium: 2319 mg
Fiber: 1.9 g

*Menu items were imputed into NDS 2.93 data base for analysis.

Nutrition Shortcomings:

  • Deficient in several vitamins and minerals including vitamin D, folate and calcium. Metabolic acidosis coupled with inadequate calcium and vitamin D intake can increase calcium bone loss, leading to the development of osteoporosis.

  • Eliminates virtually all carbohydrate foods to promote ketogensis. Possible complications of ketosis are dehydration, constipation and impaired cognitive function.

  • Excess total dietary fat and saturated fat intake may increase total blood cholesterol levels and LDL-cholesterol. High fat consumption increases fasting plasma free fatty acids which, in turn, have a pro-arrhythmic effect in cardiac tissue.

  • High protein consumption increases the kidney uric acid load resulting in elevated serum uric acid levels and possible gout. Kidney stone formation is also associated with excess protein intake.

  • Diet plan virtually devoid of fiber and phytochemicals derived from carbohydrate-containing plant foods.

  • Difficult program to follow long-term for those who enjoy eating chips, breads, fruits or other carbohydrate-containing foods.

Weight Loss Promise:

Atkins does not clearly outline rate of expected weight loss for those
using his diet plan. Instead, the author states that weight loss is
correlated with “metabolic resistance”, which is alleviated by limiting
intake of carbohydrates according to the guidelines stated below:

<15g CHO/day maximum weight loss potential 15-40g CHO/day average rate of weight loss >40g CHO/day low rate of weight loss

Potential Health Problems:

Initial rapid weight loss due to excessive diuresis of water from liver and muscle glycogen depletion (glycogen is 75% water). Increased serum fatty acids from prolonged ketosis coupled with significantly high intake of dietary cholesterol and saturated fat can increase risk of heart disease. Other possible health effects: cardiac arrthymias from electrolyte imbalances, increased risk of osteoporosis from urinary calcium losses, gout, kidney stones and nausea, lethargy and general weakness associated with prolonged ketosis.