Diets 101 – Atkins and Dukan Diets

Atkins Diet
The Atkins Diet is a low carbohydrate diet that was developed by Robert Atkins after he read a research paper in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 1963 and used this study to solve his own overweight condition.  The diet is based on the idea that carbohydrates cause obesity through the release of insulin.

Our bodies use both fats and carbohydrates as energy. When we consume high-carbohydrate food, it is broken down into sugars that enter the bloodstream.  If there is too much sugar in the bloodstream, insulin is released to convert the sugar into glycogen, which is stored in the liver and muscles.  Because we can only store about half a day’s worth of energy in glucose, any excess sugar is converted into fat and store on the body in relatively unlimited amounts.

By reducing carbohydrates and eating more protein and fat, the body produces less insulin and is forced to go into ketosis, which means it has to alter its primary energy source from carbohydrates to stored fat, thus causing the body to burn body fat.

The diet claims to not only cause weight loss, but also decrease appetite, improve health and prevent diseases like hypertension and diabetes.  However, there are a few side effects associated with a state of ketosis – bad breath and constipation.The Atkins program has four phases: 

  • Induction – a two-week phase that aims to kick start the weight loss process.  Carbs are restricted to only 20 grams per day and foods that are allowed include all animal products, cheese, non-starchy vegetables, fats and oils.
  • Ongoing Weight Loss (OWL) – a phase of indefinite length that allows a few more food items and an increased carb allowance while still promoting weight loss.
  • Pre-maintenance – the dieter’s goal weight is in sight.  The introduction of more carbohydrates like potatoes, carrots, legumes and grains reduces the speed of weight loss and prepares the body for the maintenance phase, which is followed for the rest of the dieter’s life.
  • Lifetime Maintenance – the goal weight has been reached and the dieter should have enough knowledge to maintain their new weight.

Foods that are permanently restricted include refined sugar, milk, potatoes, pasta, white rice and flour.  It is recommended to drink plenty of water and to take a multivitamin supplement during this diet as the food restrictions may prevent a complete daily intake of essential vitamins and minerals.

Calorie recommendations range between 1500-1800 calories per day for women and 1800-2000 calories per day for men, but these figures do depend on age, sex, size and metabolism.

Exercise is not emphasised but can be helpful to accelerate results.  The Atkins website also encourages people to educate themselves about what they eat, provides a recipe database for home cooking and advice on what to eat when dining out with friends and family.
Despite being successful in helping many people lose weight, the Atkins diet does come under scrutiny by various associations that are concerned about excessive fat intake or believe that restricted carbohydrates will affect physiological performance.  Over time, the diet has evolved to encourage the consumption of lean meats, legumes and whole grains, as well as healthy fats like nuts.

The Dukan Diet
The Dukan Diet was created by French physician Pierre Dukan as a treatment for obesity.   It’s a high protein diet that attempts to replicate the eating habits of primitive man by only allowing 100 foods that include 72 from the animal world and 28 from the plant world.

It has four phases:

  • The “Attack” phase lasts between 1-10 days and kick starts the weight loss process by only allowing three things – unlimited lean protein, 1.5 tablespoons of oat bran and 1.5 liters of water a day. Lean protein includes fish, poultry, eggs, and low fat dairy.
  • The “Cruise” phase lasts for as long as required to reach True Weight and involves alternating between Pure Protein days and Protein-Vegetable days.  The dieter is restricted to a list of 28 non-starchy vegetables that can be eaten in unlimited amounts addition to the protein and oat bran.
  • The “Consolidation” phase is an in-between period between weight loss and maintenance, and prepares the dieter for a lifetime commitment.  It is during this time that weight gain may happen as more foods are introduced, but it is recommended to stay in this phase ten days for every kilogram lost to avoid putting the weight back on.  This phase involves more protein choices like pork and lamb, eating vegetables every day, including limited amounts of fruit, bread and cheese, and also having a cheat meal once or twice a week, provided that one day per week is dedicated to eating protein only, just like in the Attack phase.
  • The “Stabilization” phase is all about maintenance.  All that is required during this phase is to include one all-protein day per week and have 3 tablespoons of oat bran and a 20 minute walk every day.

As with most high protein diets, side effects can include bad breath and constipation, but there are concerns that the rapid weight loss caused by this diet can lead to muscle loss, which decreases your metabolism.  Also, because it is recommended to take a multivitamin as well, it could be an indication that the food restrictions are preventing the ingestion of important vitamins and minerals.