The Faddest of Them All: The Atkins' Diet

31 May 2012
Author: Hippocrates Wellness Team
Read time: 18 min
Category: Archive

Fad diets date back centuries. The options throughout history range from the ridiculous to the even more ridiculous.

Take this old newspaper ad for a new diet. It reads, “Eat, eat, eat and always stay thin. Fat, the enemy that is shortening your life, banished. How? With sanitized tape worms.” Yum. The ad states they are “jar packed,” “easy to swallow,” have “no ill effects” and of course, pose “no danger.” 2

Look and you will find old ads for cigarettes in which doctors recommend a certain brand of cigarette for good health.3 With its appetite-suppressing effects and so-called stress-relieving properties, many consumers fell for this deadly habit. Even today, many smokers fear if they quit smoking, they will gain weight.

For decades fad diets have come and gone. There was the Drinking Man’s Diet, the Martini and Whipped Cream Diet and the Calories Don’t Count Diet. Today, you can still try the Grapefruit Diet (of 1941), you can supercharge your bowel movements with the Cabbage Soup Diet, perhaps have a reversal of fortunes so-to-speak on the Hot Dog Diet of 1963, or be proud to get your hand caught in the cookie jar while on the Cookie Diet. You can also try the Ice Cream Diet of 2002, although the concept that frozen foods contain zero calories because calories are units of heat did melt away pretty quickly. A little less ridiculous, at least in name, is the Scarsdale Diet, The Doctor’s Quick Weight Loss Diet, The Zone Diet and the South Beach Diet.

But none have received more play over the years or fit the term “fad” better than the Atkins' Diet. In fact, the Atkins' Diet has been coined, “The Diet Fad of the 21st Century.”4

Atkins penned his first version of his infamous diet back in 1972, but I have 14 versions of Atkins books I picked up at a used bookstore sitting here on my desk as I write and research this article – and I didn’t even buy them all! The titles run the gamut from Dr. Atkins' Diet Revolution to the Dr. Atkins' New Diet Revolution, to Atkins' for Life, but the premise in all is basically the same: Eat practically no carbohydrates (breads, pastas or any kind of grains) and no fruit (he says fruit is poison5) but feel free to stuff yourself with unlimited amounts of rich, high-fat foods such as pork rinds, heavy cream, meat, blue cheese dressing, butter, cheese, lobster, mayonnaise, cheesecake, eggs, chicken, fish, processed meats, bacon, sausage, and cold cuts. Oh, and don’t forget to leave your common sense at the door.

Atkins kept his namesake diet rolling around on our tongues for years until his highly controversial death in 2003, prompting many to ask, which came first his deadly fall on the ice or a heart attack? The controversy began when news leaked that his death certificate stated he weighed 258 pounds at the time of his death,6 considered quite obese for a man of his stature according to the CDC’s BMI/body mass index calculator7 (183 pounds would have been considered “normal.”) Then it was revealed by the Wall Street Journal, that Atkin’s own cardiologist and former chief of medicine for Atkins' organization, Dr. Joseph Fratellone, claimed Atkins was indeed “overweight”8 and speculation began that he may have died from his own diet. It has also been speculated Atkins had heart disease, congestive heart failure and hypertension.9 Although the Atkins' camp vehemently denies these claims, it is still debated today.

Aktins may or may not have been “fat” at the time of his death, but there is no question, Robert Atkins had the fattest wallet of all diet doctors to date. The privately held Atkins empire is estimated to have earned an annual $100 million-plus revenue,10 despite even being denounced with an official condemnation by the American Medical Association, which said the diet, “poses a serious threat to health.” 11 But consumers, desperate for a quick and easy solution to their ever expanding waistlines, took to the carbo-nada meat-lover’s diet in a frenzy during the late 90s through the early 2000s. Like all fads, however, its time came to an end, and Atkins Nutritionals, Inc. filed for bankruptcy in 2005,12 going the way of the tape worm diet.

So what’s wrong with the Atkins' Diet? Here are a just a few of its rotten apples:

1. Unlimited reliance on factory farmed, high fat and high protein acidic animal foods

If it has a mother, a liver, or a face, feel free to gorge. You can become the All You Can Eat Buffet King, if you so desire. According to Dr. Atkins, “you can eat without limit solid fattening food” and “it won’t put a single ounce of fat on you.”13 Dr. Colin Campbell, author of The China Study and one of the world’s most respected nutrition authorities writes about the Atkins' Diet, “Eating this way is perhaps the single greatest threat to American health we currently face.”14 About his research studies, Dr. Campbell notes, “people who ate the most animal-based foods got the most chronic diseases;”15 disease such as cancer, diabetes, heart disease, obesity, osteoporosis, kidney stones and autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis. In reference to cancer, Dr. Campbell writes, “…dietary (animal) protein proved to be so powerful in its effect that we could turn on and turn off cancer growth simply by changing the level consumed.”16 This was only significant for animal protein, not plant protein, indicating that the source of protein is indeed an important factor. He goes on to say, “Casein, which makes up 87% of cow’s milk protein, promoted all stages of the cancer process.”17

2.Elimination of practically all carbohydrates and restriction of healthy, nutrient-dense fruit and veggie intake

According to most “low-carb diets,” insulin is the devil in disguise, so by eliminating carbs from the diet, you limit the release of insulin and in turn, you will not pack on the pounds. This rationale completely ignores the fact that high-fat animal protein foods also provoke quite a significant insulin release. Michael Gregor, author of Carbophobia: The Scary Truth About America’s Low-carb Craze, writes in; “Research…has shown that under fasting conditions a quarter pound of beef raises insulin levels in diabetics as much as a quarter pound of straight sugar. Atkins’ featured foods like cheese and beef elevated insulin levels higher than “dreaded” high-carbohydrate foods like pasta. A single burger’s worth of beef, or three slices of cheddar, boosts insulin levels more than almost 2 cups of cooked pasta. In fact a study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that meat, compared to the amount of blood sugar it releases, seems to cause the most insulin secretion of any food tested.”18 Gregor also reports on a study presented at the 2003 American Heart Association convention that compared four popular diets for a year; Weight Watchers, The Zone Diet, the Atkins' Diet (very low carbs), and the Ornish Diet (almost all carbs). He notes, “Out of the four diets that were compared that year, Ornish’s vegetarian diet was the only one to significantly lower the “Monster Hormone That Makes You Fat,” even though that’s supposedly what Atkins' and The Zone diets were designed to do…. Low-carb advocates like Atkins seem to completely ignore these facts. Recent medical reviews have called Atkins’ feel-good theories “factually flawed” and “at best half-truths…. the scientific literature is in opposition... In a medical journal article entitled “Food Fads and Fallacies,” the Atkins' Diet is referred to as a “’New wives’ tale.” 19

3. Use of artificial sweeteners.

Artificial sweeteners are not only allowed on the Atkins Diet, but encouraged. The artificial sweeteners he names; Splenda (sucralose), saccharin, cyclamate, acesulfame-K, and maltitol20 are just that, artificial. They are foreign chemicals and that should be enough to get you to say “no way” to them. If not, it might surprise you to know many artificial sweeteners are considered to be neurotoxins; that is, toxic to your nervous system; your brain, spinal cord and all the nerves that run throughout your body. Hundreds of symptoms, from migraine headaches to unexplained seizures, vision problems and inexplicable tingling sensations have been reported from the use of artificial sweeteners.21 Keep in mind these artificial sweeteners are also hidden in many common foods labeled “diet” and “lite,” so be sure to read nutrition labels before consuming.

4. Allowance of heavily processed, packaged and refined foods.

Most diet doctors these days literally have a food product empire of bars, shakes and TV dinners to follow their best-selling books, and Atkins was and is no exception. His line of processed, packaged and heavily refined foods has made millions upon millions and an abbreviated version still sells today. Be aware, if a product has a long shelf-life, chances are it is full of chemical food additives and it is not healthy. Have you ever read the ingredients in these popular diet products? Try to pronounce them! A few of the ingredients in the Atkins' line include; carrageenan, sucralose and acesulfame potassium (artificial sweeteners), artificial flavors, soy nuggets, whey protein isolate, milk protein isolate, soy lethicin, sulfites (a preservative), (processed) salt, and a “vitamin mineral mix” (synthetic nutrients). Note: most of the above ingredients are common allergens, some are genetically modified and many cause adverse reactions. In addition, these food products are highly processed, very acidic, totally nutrient deficient, toxic and do not giveth, but taketh from your body. Always remember what the 94-year-old “Juiceman,” Jack Lalane teaches, “If man made it, don’t eat it.”

5. Side effects and Dangers

Side effects: A study on the Atkins' Diet, paid for by the Atkins group itself, reported headache, hair loss, constipation and halitosis (bad breath). There was also a catastrophic issue for bone health; a stunning 53 percent increase of calcium in the urine. Children on the diet had vitamin deficiencies, calcium oxalate and urate kidney stones, vomiting and amenorhhea (missed menstral cycles).22 Fatigue, nausea and reduced mental capacity have also been reported on low-carb, high-protein diets.23 Sounds like a TV ad for a prescription drug, doesn’t it??

Ketosis: Another potentially serious issue with the Atkins' Diet is ketosis. By not consuming carbohydrates (glucose), the body’s first choice for fuel (note: your brain, kidney cells and red blood cells use ONLY glucose as fuel16), the body goes into ketosis; it is using fat as fuel. At first, this might sound great, but this scenario releases excessive acetones and other ketones into the body.24 Ketones causes the bad breath Atkins dieter’s are known to have, and being in the state of ketosis is an unhealthy condition for many, especially diabetics, those with heart disease, hypertension, kidney disease and pregnant women. In his original book, Dr. Atkins stated, “I recommend this diet to all my pregnant patients.” After much scrutiny about ketones causing “significant neurological impairment” to the fetus and an “average loss of about 10 IQ points,” he changed his tune about this in subsequent books.25

Gout: Painful gout attacks are another potential side effect of the Atkins Diet. Due to all the extremely acid-forming, purine-containing foods consumed on the Atkins Diet, uric acid levels can build up in the blood and needle-like crystals can accumulate in the connective tissue and joints, particularly the big toe. Additionally, while in ketosis, stored body fat is consumed for energy, releasing even more uric acid as a by-product into the body. This high blood uric acid level can also increase the risk of kidney stones and induce kidney failure.26 In his books, Dr. Atkins tells people with kidney problems, it is difficult for their body to handle protein, but he states protein has “nothing to do with the cause of a kidney problem” and that “it has never been reported anywhere. I have yet to see someone produce a study for me to review, or even cite a specific case in which a protein-containing diet causes any form of kidney disorder.”27 It should be noted that for some, such kidney problems may only become apparent when the trauma of protein overload, i.e. high protein diets, is exerted on the kidneys, as in the high animal protein Atkins Diet.

Dehydration, electrolyte loss, initial rapid weight loss: The overall reduction of calories (from cutting out carbs) in the Atkins' Diet results in an initial rapid weight loss that many dieters get excited about. Keep in mind, the weight loss is actually excessive water loss, not fat loss. The liver and muscles store excess carbs (glucose) in the form of glycogen. When their stores are depleted (by restricting carb intake), this leads to a massive loss of water (weight), since one molecule of the stored glycogen holds three parts water. In addition, the body uses lots of water to flush out the toxic byproducts of ketosis. Low carb diets also lead to an increased excretion of sodium. All of these circumstances cause a powerful diuretic effect (excess water excretion), sudden temporary weight loss, dehydration and loss of essential electrolytes.

Cholesterol and heart disease: The Atkins' group has reported those on his diet experience a drop in cholesterol,28 but it has since been shown that this is not the case in the long term. Any sudden weight loss or cutting of overall calories at the beginning of a diet, by cutting out carbs in the case of the Atkins' Diet, can lead to a temporary drop in cholesterol. But long term, gorging until your heart’s content (or has a massive cornonary) on high-fat, acidic animal protein, is a recipe for disaster. A study in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association of Dr. Atkins’ Diet Revolution showed “a significant increase in the amount of LDL “bad” cholesterol among participants, and in women a significant decrease in the amount of HDL “good” cholesterol, suggesting an increased risk of heart attacks. There was also a significant increase in free fatty acids, which may increase the chance of developing heart beat irregularities.”29

If weight keeps finding you or you are facing health challenges of any kind, there are very easy, common-sense steps to transition yourself to a whole new you:

1. Eat real, clean, organic food. Mother Nature did get it right, so take her lead. Consume veggies, fruits, nuts, seeds and sprouts. The best part? These plant-based foods do not have cancer or other diseases as a side-effect. Also remember, non-organic foods are sprayed with poisons (herbicides, pesticides and/or fungicides), injected with hormones such as bovine growth hormone and even may have been genetically modified, as are almost all of the corn and soy grown in this country. Stick to locally grown, organic, whole foods that have not been processed or refined.

2. Eat more raw, uncooked food. The less man touches food, the healthier it is. Not only are valuable nutrients damaged and depleted during the cooking process, but toxic and often times potentially carcinogenic byproducts are formed. (See my article in the Volume 28, Issue 3 of Hippocrates, Healing Our World magazine, entitled, “What’s in it? Cooked Food” for more information on this.)

3. Incorporate fresh green veggie juices into your daily routine. I can’t stress this enough: Drink your greens daily! A freshly made organic green veggie juice is absorbed almost instantly, it will stabilize blood sugar, will give you tons of energy, and make your skin glow! A fresh veggie juice is loaded with incredibly healing nutrients and- it’s alkaline! Disease thrives in an acidic body, so get to green juicing!

4. Limit or eliminate animal products. I know this is a tough one for many and I sympathize. I grew up eating burgers, steaks, fish and chicken as well, but have “seen the light.” I’m willing to bet many of your medical doctors suggest you might want to “cut back on the red meat,” and they even may have prescribed a cholesterol lowering medication, but in my opinion, their advisories don’t go far enough. Taking a dangerous drug is going to only mask the problem, not solve it, and chances are it will leave you with unwanted, potentially dangerous or even deadly side effects. The health risks of consuming a diet rich in animal products are no secret- we’ve all heard this practically all our lives. Today is the day to wake up. Slowly transition yourself and start by choosing a few days a week to eat only a plant-based diet. Baby step yourself and discover new, delicious foods. You will feel better than ever and live a long healthy life!

5. Exercise daily: Nothing will oxygenate your blood and your lungs more and get those toxins movin' on out better than a dose of daily exercise. The endorphins will flow, making you feel great. Your lymphatic system (your immune system) does not circulate unless you move! Bounce on a mini-trampoline, do some yoga, get out in the fresh air and ride your bike, jog around the block, sign up for a triathlon and just get moving!

Someday people will look back on the Atkins Diet and other fad diets of our day with the same disgust, disdain and utter disbelief we feel when we read about the tape worm diet or smoking cigarettes to stay healthy and thin. Someday all people will realize Mother Earth’s food is the common sense way and the only way to live a vibrant, loving, disease-free, healthy life. That someday is now for many. My hope is that it's now for you too.

Dr. Ginger is an instructor in Hippocrates Wellness’s Health Educator Program and the owner of her own corporate wellness consulting company. She is the author of “Fight Cancer with Your Fork, the nutrition chapter of Kris Carr’s new book, “Crazy Sexy Cancer Survivor.” She can be reached















13.Atkins, Robert C. “Dr. Atkins Diet Revolution.” David McKay Company, Inc, 1972. p. 15

14.Campbell, T. Colin. “The China Study.” Benbella Books, 2005. p. 95

15.Campbell, T. Colin. “The China Study.” Benbella Books, 2005.

16.Campbell, T. Colin. “The China Study.” Benbella Books, 2005.

17.Campbell, T. Colin. “The China Study.” Benbella Books, 2005.



20.Atkins, Robert C. “Dr. Atkin’s New Diet Revolution.” Quill, 2002. p.128


22.Campbell, T. Colin. “The China Study.” Benbella Books, 2005. p. 96





27.Atkins, Robert C. “Dr. Atkins New Diet Revolution” Quill, 2002. p.100

28.Atkins, Robert C. “Dr. Atkins Diet Revolution” David McKay Company, Inc, 1972. p.39


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