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What is the Atkins diet?

The Atkins diet is a popular low-carbohydrate eating plan that emphasizes high intake of protein and fat whilst restricting carbohydrates.  The diet was developed in the 1960s by cardiologist Robert C. Atkins and prescribed for weight loss and maintenance.

As long as you base your meals around a fatty protein source with vegetables or nuts and some healthy fats, then you will lose weight. It’s that simple.

What do I have to do?

The Atkins Diet is quite a flexible diet.  The focus is on eating protein and fat whilst controlling your carb intake and eating those that are most nutrient-dense.  You can design your own meals using the Atkins rules, and you choose how long you want to stay on it.  The Atkins Diet doesn’t require any calorie counting or portion control but does require you to track your carbs.

What foods can you eat?

Pretty much anything that is high protein and low carb.

  • Meat: Chicken, pork (including bacon), lamb, beef, etc.

  • Fish: Fatty fish like salmon, trout, sardines and other seafood.

  • Eggs and dairy: Including butter, cheese, cream, full-fat yogurt, etc.

  • Vegetables: Spinach, broccoli, asparagus and others.

  • Nuts and seeds: Such as almonds, macadamia nuts, walnuts, sunflower seeds, etc.

  • Healthy fats: Extra virgin olive oil, coconut oil, avocados and avocado oil.

What foods do you avoid?

Any foods that are high carb… especially sugar, white flour and other refined carbs – as these lead to blood sugar imbalances, weight gain and cardiovascular problems.

  • Sugar: Any cakes, candy, ice cream, soft drinks, or “diet” foods.

  • Alcohol: A moderate amount of alcohol is allowed but it needs to be included in your daily calorie count.

  • Grains: Rice, wheat, spelt, rye, barley as well as bread and pasta.

  • Vegetable oils: Soybean oil, corn oil, cottonseed oil, canola oil.

  • Trans fats: Usually found in processed foods with the word “hydrogenated” on the ingredients list.

  • High-carb vegetables and fruits: Carrots, turnips, bananas, apples, pears, etc (only for the induction period).

  • Starches: Potatoes, sweet potatoes (only for the induction period).

  • Legumes: Lentils, beans, chickpeas, etc (only for the induction period).

An example meal plan

There are a number of eating plans that provide a more structured daily meal plan, such as the Atkins 20,  the Atkins 40, or a one-week sample menu.  The sample menu below provides an example of what your meal plan may look like:

  • Breakfast: Eggs and vegetables, fried in coconut oil.

  • Lunch: Chicken salad with olive oil, and a handful of nuts.

  • Dinner: Steak and veggies.

  • Breakfast: Bacon and eggs.

  • Lunch: Leftover chicken and veggies from the night before.

  • Dinner: Cheeseburger (without the bun), with vegetables and butter.

  • Breakfast: Omelet with veggies, fried in butter.

  • Lunch: Shrimp salad with some olive oil.

  • Dinner: Ground beef stir fry, with veggies.

  • Breakfast: Eggs and veggies, fried in coconut oil.

  • Lunch: Leftover stir fry from dinner the night before.

  • Dinner: Salmon with butter and vegetables.

  • Breakfast: Bacon and eggs.

  • Lunch: Chicken salad with olive oil and a handful of nuts.

  • Dinner: Meatballs with vegetables.

  • Breakfast: Omelet with various vegetables, fried in butter.

  • Lunch: Leftover meatballs from the night before.

  • Dinner: Pork chops with vegetables.

  • Breakfast: Bacon and eggs.

  • Lunch: Leftover pork chops from the night before.

  • Dinner: Grilled chicken wings, with some salsa and veggies.

How long should I stay on the Atkins?

It is up to you how long you use the Atkins diet.  You can certainly follow the rules for a couple of weeks if you have short-term weight loss goals, however this will not lead to sustainable eating habits.  The Atkins diet formally outlines a four phase plan:

  1. Phase 1: Induction.  Eat under 20 grams of cards per day for 2 weeks; eat high fat, high-protein foods and low-carb vegetables.  This is to kick start the weight loss.

  2. Phase 2: Balancing.  In this phase you slowly add back in some nutrient-rich carbs, such as more vegetables and berries, nuts, and seeds.

  3. Phase 3: Fine-tuning.   Gradually increase the range of foods you can eat, including fruits, starchy vegetables and whole grains.

  4. Phase 4: Maintenance.  Here you can eat as many healthy carbs as your body can tolerate without regaining weight.

How good is the diet?

The Atkins diet is one of the best-known low-carb diets, and the research shows it can work.  The diet claims that you can expect to lose 6-10 lbs in the first two weeks of the Induction phase, which should slow to 1-3 lbs a week once you enter the subsequent phases.

There have been concerns raised around the level of fatty protein that is consumed – the high intake of fat, particularly saturates, may increase the risk of heart disease.  There are also concerns that the unbalanced nature of the Atkins diet may lead to nutritional deficiencies, which cause health problems in later life, and that a better approach is to aim for a well-balanced combination of all macro nutrients.

For your long-term health, you will have to move on from the initial Atkins diets and include exercise and keep portions small while you start eating nuts, seeds, beans, fruits, starchy vegetables, and whole grains again.

Further resources

Access the Atkins diet website here:

Learn more about the EatWell ToolKit App at:

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