My husband is starting the Atkins diet! On the bright side, I think this will make some things easier for me because he will be watching what he is eating and having less temptations around. But I'd love some reading on this, either for my knowledge or anything I should have him read. I'm concerned about his health. - Joan
Dear Joan, I agree that it will be helpful to you and your goals that your husband is choosing to do watch his intake, even if his approach isn't the same as yours. Your home will likely have fewer temptations, (especially alcohol and sweets) and hopefully it will help him with the results he wants to see. Maybe he'll start cooking more!
There are a lot of ways to do a low carb diet. A lot carb lunch might be a salmon filet and green salad with pecans.... or it might be bacon wrapped steak with butter-blue cheese sauce on it. If a person includes a lot of vegetables, and chooses healthier fats and proteins, it's not that bad health-wise.
The elements which can (but don't have to) make a low carb diet detrimental to health include:
- Low intake of fiber (constipation is common)
- Low intake of fruits and vegetables (especially during the first phase when carbohydrate intake is very limited, you can't even have all the vegetables you want. Vegetable intake is correlated with longer, healthier lives, less cancer and cardiovascular disease.
- High fat intake. Diets which are higher than about 40% calories from fat are causally linked to the development of insulin resistance, leptin resistance, obesity, increased appetite and decreased satiety, increased inflammation, and unhealthy changes in gut flora which increase risk for further weight gain and abdominal pains/digestive pain when fibers or carbohydrates are reintroduced. (a-j).
- Decreases in mental well-being (some but not all studies have found that low carbohydrate intake is related to worse moods). (k, l)
- Impaired athletic ability (particularly speed/power) (m, n)
The first 3 you can do something about by making specific choices within the Atkins Diet parameters, but the last 2 are directly due to low carbohydrate intake, and you can't raise carbohydrate intake and be on the Atkins diet.
To maximize fiber: get as many vegetables as the phase will allow. Use avocado for some of your fats, since it also provides a good amount of fiber. Chia and flax seeds can also help provide fiber without many digestible carbohydrates. Don't use carbohydrate allowances for sugars or white bread. Use them for plants!
To minimize the health risks of a high fat diet, don't go sky high in fat (you don't have to put butter in your coffee), include seafood twice a week, choose more olive oil, nuts and avocado and less fatty red meat (bacon, hamburger, steak), and use cheese and butter less often. A Mediterranean diet pattern including 1-3 tablespoons (15-45 mL) of olive oil every day has been shown to improve triglycerides and markers of inflammation, so think in spoonfuls, not glugs straight from the bottle (o).
Also, if the individual is in a calorie deficit (calorie deficit = weight decreasing) then the risks to cholesterol levels and blood lipids are reduced. Even an "artery-clogging diet" doesn't have so many damaging effects to a person if they are losing weight, the weight loss benefits to blood lipids are very significant.
Lastly, while it's not a physical health issue, dietary monotony and restriction can be unfavorable for mental health and a person's relationship with food. Being unable to eat bread, beans, rice, desserts, etc isn't something most people are willing to do forever, so they do the low carb thing for a while and within 6 to 12 months, most people are back to eating carbs. So to "bring out the best" of this phase, I'd try to emphasize some helpful diet skills that your husband can practice and maintain, even after the diet is over. Even if he doesn't stay on a low carb diet forever (most people don't) he can practice cooking and enjoying vegetables in place of starches with dinner, looking for high fiber foods, reading food labels, appreciating whole foods, and get in a habit of choosing olive oil, avocado and seafood frequently.
Best of luck to you both! Feel free to pass on the links below or send a link to this article.