The Atkins diet incorporates a lot of protein, fats, oils and greens, while completely avoiding starchy vegetables, fruits, grains and all types of added sugar. In theory, this forces your body to burn fat, but not all experts believe this is a healthy way to go about it. One reputable expert gives the Atkins diet only a "fair" rating for nutrition, warning that its emphasis on fats and elimination of carbs "put it outside nutrition guidelines." Others worry about the diet's long-term effects, including the potential for cancer, cardiovascular disease and bone loss.
Scientific results are mixed; one study found that the Atkins diet produced better weight-loss results and comparable or better health outcomes (including lipid profiles) than the three other weight-loss plans tested. Another study based on nutrition profiles ranked the Atkins diet last out of eight weight-loss plans. Many user reviews are initially positive, but sometimes the reviewer comes back to post a negative update. One tacked the statement, "It nearly killed me!" onto a previously positive review. There's also a vegetarian version called the Eco-Atkins Diet.
The Atkins diet's short-term benefits are well documented in a number of medical studies published in The Journal of the American Medical Association, the Journal of the American Dietetic Association and Public Health Nutrition. Atkins is one of seven diets profiled in ConsumerReports.org's latest diet rankings, and is also reviewed by WebMD. Almost 300 users weigh in about the Atkins diet on Epinions.com, and more than 1,300 reviewers comment on Amazon.com.
1. The Journal of the American Medical Association
This study follows more than 300 overweight or obese female subjects as they use one of four weight-loss diets, including Atkins. Those in the Atkins group had the greatest weight loss after 12 months, and their health outcomes (including lipid profiles) were comparable to or better than those of the other diet groups.
Review: Comparison of the Atkins, Zone, Ornish, and LEARN Diets for Change in Weight and Related Risk Factors Among Overweight Premenopausal Women, Christopher D. Gardner, PhD, et al., March 7, 2007
2. Journal of the American Dietetic Association
The Atkins diet finishes in last place of this scientific analysis of eight weight-loss plans. Each was evaluated for dietary quality using the Alternate Healthy Eating Index, or AHEI, applied to published sample menus.
Review: A Dietary Quality Comparison of Popular Weight-Loss Plans, Y. Ma, et al., Oct. 2007
3. Public Health Nutrition
Researchers assign 300 overweight or obese subjects to one of four commercial diet plans, including the Atkins diet, then follow their progress for six months. All participants lost weight, with no significant difference between diets, and those following the Atkins plan showed no negative heart effects within the six-month study.
Review: Comparison of the Effects of Four Commercially Available Weight-Loss Programmes on Lipid-Based Cardiovascular Risk Factors, L.M. Morgan, et al., June 2009
Seven weight-loss programs are evaluated and rated by ConsumerReports.org. Each receives an overall score based on adherence to nutritional guidelines set down by the 2010 U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans, and the results of published randomized clinical studies.
Review: Top Diets Reviewed, Editors of ConsumerReports.org, May 2011
WebMD describes the Atkins diet as "controversial," and the book "Dr. Atkins' New Diet Revolution" as a "phenomenal best seller." Experts acknowledge that the diet is effective for weight loss, but express concerns about its long-term effects.
Review: The Atkins Diet, Editors of WebMD
More than 1,350 reviewers give this book, the basis of the Atkins diet, 4 stars out of 5. There's some contention in the comments, and a number of users call this diet misguided or dangerous, but more than half of the reviews are very positive.
Review: Dr. Atkins' New Diet Revolution, Revised Edition, Contributors to Amazon.com
The Atkins diet gets 3.5 stars out of 5 from nearly 300 reviewers. Their comments are highly polarized, with some users initially raving about how well the diet worked before returning later to downgrade their ratings; in one revision, the dieter states, "It nearly killed me!"
Review: Atkins Diet, Contributors to Epinions.com