The Atkins diet and diabetes – a good combination?

The Atkins diet and diabetes

There are a lot of fad diets out there that are tempting to try, especially if you are a diabetic looking to shed a few pounds. The Atkins diet and diabetes is a topic that gets raised quite a lot. I have tried the Atkins diet as a diabetic and I was quite pleased with the results. I love carbs a bit too much to sustain it however.

The Atkins diet was the original low carbs diet. It came into vogue some time ago and was successful because of the speed at which dieters lost weight. Eating a diet high in protein and fat and low in carbohydrates puts someone’s body into ketosis – where the body burns fat as opposed to the carbs in your body. Is it any wonder that the Atkins diet and diabetes has gathered so much attention?

The Atkins diet and diabetes

The diet works on the idea that weight gain is caused, not by fat intake or food portion sizes, but how our body breaks down carbohydrates, in particular processed and starchy carbs such as bread, potatoes or pasta.

It might make sense for type 2 diabetics

A low carb diet may be a successful way to counter the effects of type 2 diabetes. Type 2 diabetes is primarily managed through proper diet and exercise, so in some respects a low carb diet is encouraged, as type 2 diabetics have to watch the amount of carbs that they eat anyway. People with type 1 diabetes manage their blood sugar levels with insulin but may find blood sugar levels easier to control with a low carb diet.

How it works

Someone on the Atkins diet will severely limit the amount of carbs and sugar that they eat. This will include bread, rice, pasta, potatoes and also things like vegetables and fruit and anything with high sugar content. This leaves protein and fats such as eggs, cheese, meat etc for a dieter will focus on., As you know, carbs are converted by the body into sugar and are directly responsible for raising your blood sugar levels.  Lowering your carb intake therefore results in lower blood sugar levels and lower insulin requirements which can ultimately lead to weight loss. Without carbs your body will burn fat as its primary energy source. Check out my product review for the best diet capsule on the market right now

A perfect example of the Atkins diet and diabetes

This example comes from another website but I could not have illustrated a better example myself so I have used theirs instead see their site at  www.dietdoctor.com/diabetes#twomeals for more information.

This highlights how a meal high in carbs can raise blood sugar levels dramatically after eating and then drop equally as dramatically as insulin burns off the carbs…

An example of two common meals. One with carbs, one without

Atkins diet and diabetes - two meals

 

On the left is a low carb meal featuring beef fried in butter, vegetables fried in butter and a home-made béarnaise sauce (melted butter and egg yolk). Plenty of fat and protein but almost no carbs

The meal on the right is very high in carbs, it contains almost all its energy from sugar and starches, things that are broken down to simple sugars in the stomach.

Interestingly here is the outcome on a chart of blood sugar levels after each meal.

Atkins diet and diabetes two meals chart

A blood glucose level between 4-6 mmol/l is typical while fasting. It can then rise after a meal, depending on how many carbohydrates you eat.

As you can see, nothing happened to this persons blood sugar when the meal on the left was consumed, that is because it contained few, if any carbs. If you don’t eat carbohydrates no glucose will be released into the blood stream and consequently the blood glucose level will stay where it is.

As a contrast, the meal on the right sent the person’s blood glucose level through the roof, all the way up to 9.9 mmol/l (180 mg/dl), in just an hour. Three or four hours later their blood glucose levels came crashing down.

Please see my article on my successful type 1 diabetes diet.

Some advantages of the Atkins/ low carb diets

  • It can promote rapid weight loss (don’t forget some weight will just be water retention)
  • You can eat as much fat and protein as you want (game on McDonalds, minus the burger buns, chips and sugary soft drinks of course)
  • The Atkins Diet has been proven to work many times
  • The Atkins diet may not be as time-consuming and expensive as some other popular diets

Disadvantages include:

  • The Atkins diet can be very restrictive. Bacon, eggs and cheese sounds great but it does get repetitive all the time.
  • The diet sees you eating a lot of fat
  • The diet can cause bad (dogs) breath, leave you with headaches or an upset tummy in the early days
  • The diet, by default, cuts out many valuable nutrients you would get from salads, fruit and vegetables.
  • It is pretty much a no-go area for vegetarians.
  • There are also concerns about the effect of such high levels of protein and fat upon vital organs such as the heart and the kidneys.

After the first couple of weeks, the Atkins Diet provides a maintenance program, which involves gradual re-introduction of some carbohydrates into the diet in order to maintain the weight loss. The carb intake even at this stage, is much lower than most people are accustomed to.

In my experience

I lost a significant amount of weight on the Atkins diet in a relatively short space of time. What I found out later was that a lot of the weight I lost initially was just water retention. The theory being that as all the heavy carbs leave your body ie potatoes, rice, bread etc as does the water that was absorbed by those foods in your stomach. However if you stick to the Atkins diet your body does start to burn fat as its primary energy source which I started to see. As I said earlier people with type 2 diabetes have to watch their carbs, so a diet like the Atkins may suit them.

Calorie counting is a healthier way

I think that watching your overall calorie intake is a more effective, proven and healthier way to lose weight. I also think it is more sustainable than the Atkins diet over the longer term. If you have a sweet tooth or if you enjoy rice or bread or potatoes you are going to struggle at some point doing the Atkins. Carbs should not be totally avoided anyway, in my opinion. The good kind of complex carbs with a medium to low GI should be chosen like whole grain breads and cereals

On a side note, I have also tried intermittent fasting. Please read my blog on diabetes and intermittent fasting here.

What about you? Has anyone out there tried the Atkins/ low carb diet? What results did you have?

 

 

 

 

 

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8 Comments

  1. Martin

    Brilliant article my friend! I was always wondering about the Atkins diet and thanks to you I don’t have to look any further. I love the pictures/examples and the graph you provided, great helpful visuals. It’s crazy to see how peaks and then drops. Love your whole site, too, by the way. Great job. Keep up the good work!

    Reply
    1. Ben (Post author)

      Thank you for your kind words. Yes the Atkins diet is interesting it can keep your blood sugar levels reliable and predictable.

      Reply
  2. Chris

    It’s a really surprising article, I would of thought anyone with diabetes should see this as some sort of red flag. I’d be msot concerned about high cholesterol and whole dairy products, and other high-fat foods. Increasing your chance of heart disease can’t be a good thing when you are suffering from diabetes right?

    Reply
    1. Ben (Post author)

      It depends on what side of the loaf your bread is buttered Chris. Low sugar is the end game for some diabetics. Much of the research suggests that a diet high in fat and protein but low in carbs and sugar is the way to go. I believe in the healthy calorie controlled diet but many like Atkins.

      Reply
  3. wunderkindonsulting

    Awesome post. I know quite a few people who suffer from diabetes. I also know quite a few people who swear by the Atkins diet. I myself have tried it, and it definitely does work. But what I liked most about this post, was your breakdown of how the Atkins diet helps people suffering from diabetes. The science of it makes total sense. By reducing the glucose intake, it keeps the body from working so hard to try to regulate blood glucose levels. I can’t wait to share this article with friends and family who suffer from diabetes.

    Reply
    1. Ben (Post author)

      Thanks for your kind comments. I hope your diabetic friends get some benefit from reading my site.

      Reply
  4. Alexandra

    I absolutely share your point of view. I personally follow a “Clean Eating” / Paleo diet with a bit of everything as long as its oragnic and in moderation. Another thing for readers to consider is, that the metabolization of carbs/protein/fats is genetically determined and therefore varies from individual to individual. Just like eating a lowcarb diet might help one, it can be completely useless to the next.

    Reply
    1. Ben (Post author)

      You have raised some very good points there Alexandra. I would especially encourage people to heed the results vary from individual to individual. Low carbs can of course benefit diabetics for obvious reasons.

      Reply

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