Atkins Diet: The Ultimate Guide for beginners

The Atkins Diet will require you to reduce your carb intake and fuel up on non-starchy vegetables, such as asparagus, and higher-fat food, such as meat.

While the ketogenic diet may be the most popular low-carb weight loss diet, its predecessor, the Atkins diet, is still the best. “Atkins and are both low carb diets that can benefit weight loss, diabetes management, and heart health,” Vanessa Rissetto RD, a nutritionist based out of Hoboken, New Jersey.

Rissetto states that keto is much more fat-rich than Atkins. However, the main difference between Atkins & keto is that Atkins gradually increases your carb intake. While she says, keto’s carbs “remain very low, which allows your body to remain in ketosis while burning ketones as energy.”

The diet is also known as the Atkins Nutritional Approach. It comes in three flavors today. (1)

Atkins 20 is designed for:

  • You want to lose more than 40 lbs (lb).
  • A waist circumference greater than 35 inches for women and 40 inches for men is considered to be a healthy waist.
  • Prediabetes or Type 2 Diabetes

Atkins 40 is designed for:

  • You want to lose less than 40 lb
  • You are pregnant or nursing and wish to lose weight
  • You need a wider range of food options

Atkins 100 is designed for:

  • Do you want to keep your current weight?
  • Are pregnant
  • Are you breastfeeding or trying to keep your weight down?

Check with your healthcare provider before you try any Atkins version, especially if pregnant or considering Atkins 100.

A Review of the 3 Atkins Diet Plans

Atkins diets are designed to reduce net carbs, which are found in vegetables. They also emphasize healthy fats and protein. As you work towards your weight loss goals, select carbs that will be added to your diet.

Atkins defines net carbohydrates as grams of carbs, minus the grams of fiber or sugar alcohols. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration [FDA] doesn’t recognize net carbs as a valid nutritional term. (2)

Atkins 20 and Atkins40 have different phases. Atkins 100, on the other hand, is a lifestyle program that requires you to consume no more than 100 net carbohydrates per day. Atkins 20’s initial “induction” phase restricts you to 20g (g) of net carbs, while Atkins 40’s initial induction phase limits you at 40g (g). This gives you more freedom in what foods you can eat (including select fruits), according to the Atkins website. (1) Atkins 20 allows you to add net carbohydrates back to your diet every 5 grams (20, 25, 30, etc.). Atkins 40 adds net carbs back in 10 g increments (RD ), explained Lauren Popeck of Orlando Health in Florida.

Atkins 20 Foods

These foods might help you jumpstart your Atkins 20 weight loss.

  • Foundation vegetables, such as broccoli, spinach, and bok choy
  • Proteins, such as eggs and chicken.
  • All fish, including salmon and cod, flounder, and herring
  • Butter and Olive Oil
  • Some cheeses such as Swiss, Parmesan, and cheddar are available.

The Atkins website has a complete, detailed food list for Phase 1 of Atkins 20. (3)

Atkins 40 Foods

You can eat the Atkins 40 diet, but you must eat the following (as long as your net carbs are under 40g/day): (4)

  • Seeds and Nuts
  • Legumes (beans).
  • Fruit
  • Starchy vegetables like potatoes, squash, and beets
  • Whole grains such as barley, whole grain rice, and whole-wheat pasta.

Atkins 100 Foods

Atkins 100 followers are allowed to eat almost any food, as long as they do not consume more than 100 grams of net carbs per day. Sugar and refined carbs can quickly add up, so it is best to reduce or eliminate these carbs. (1)

You can access the entire Atkins Diet online for free.

Atkins Diet’s premise is that your body will burn fat for energy if you limit and count carbs. The main idea behind the Atkins Diet is to stop eating refined flour and sugar, as with many other fad diets. However, if you are trying to adhere to the Atkins 20 diet, even whole-grain foods rich in carbs should be avoided until you reach the maintenance phase.

Weight loss can be achieved by cutting out carbohydrates. Popeck warns that cutting out whole food groups like grains, milk and yogurt is not sustainable and insufficiently nutrients. Popeck warns that fiber, calcium, and potassium will all be in short supply. More information is available in the cons section.

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What are the 4 Phases of the Atkins Diet?

There are two Atkins versions: Atkins 20 and Atkins40. They can be divided into distinct phases.

Phase 1

Depending on your goals, the first phase of induction can take anywhere from two weeks to several months.

Phase 2

You can gradually increase your daily carbohydrate intake in the next phase. This is called ongoing weight loss.

Atkins 20 In phase 2, you will increase net carbs by 5 g each and add variety to your diet using antioxidant-rich fruits, nuts, and seeds, as well as more vegetables.

The Atkins 20 plan has two phases. Phase 2 is the beginning and phase 3. Phase 3 begins once you are within 10 lb. Both phases are focused on adding carbs to your diet, while you lose weight.

Atkins 40 This phase allows you to add more carbohydrates in 10g increments. You do this mainly by increasing your portion sizes. The diet recommends that you move into this phase if your goal weight is less than 10 lb.

You can continue increasing carbs in both plans until you notice weight loss slowing down or stopping. Then, depending on your current weight, you can start weight maintenance. If you’re not seeing the desired weight, you can cut back on carbohydrates. Because protein and fats provide more nutrition than refined carbohydrates, you will eat less overall but feel fuller in each stage.

Phase 3

You can begin the final phase when you have reached your goal weight.

Top Foods to Avoid and Eat on the Atkins Diet

Popeck says that all plans advise avoiding refined carbs and sugar. Here are the main foods that you will be responsible for eating or avoiding with each plan.

Atkins 20 food list (5)

  • Eat: Foundation vegetables such as spinach, broccoli, and other root vegetables; healthy fats such as olive oil, butter, nuts, seeds, and most cheeses
  • Avoid mangoes, pineapples, and other fruits; starchy vegetables like potatoes, and grains.

Atkins 40 & Atkins 100 food lists (1, 4)

  • All the Atkins 20 recommended foods, including fruits, berries and melons, legumes, some starchy vegetables like potatoes and squash, and whole grains.
  • Avoid white or processed carbs like pretzels or white bread, as well as hidden sugar sources.

Can Vegans and Vegetarians Follow the Atkins Diet

Yes, vegetarians and vegans can follow the Atkins diet. However, meeting your protein goals will be harder since many protein sources such as fish, meat, and dairy (for vegans) are off-limits.

Researchers in Toronto came up with the Eco Atkins diet. (6) The diet calls for 31 percent of calories to be from protein (soy protein, nuts, and veggie burgers for vegans, and eggs, cheese, and tofu for vegetarians), 43 percent from fat (olive oil, avocado, and nuts), and 26 percent from carbohydrates (fruits, vegetables, and whole grains).

In BMJOpen, a small study published in February 2014 found that participants lost approximately 15 lb in six months following the Eco Atkins vegan diet (7)

Vegetarians and vegans following the Atkins diet need to take a multivitamin, and a fish oil supplement (or flax oil for vegans), in order to get adequate nutrients. Since the induction phase can prove difficult, it’s recommended that people on the Eco Atkins diet immediately jump into Atkins 20 or Atkins 40. (6)

A 7-Day Sample Meal Plan for Atkins 20, Atkins 40, or Atkins 100 Diets

You can customize your weekly menu depending on the Atkins plan that you are following.

Atkins 20

This is how a week of Atkins 20 eating might look. (8)

Day 1

  • Breakfast cheese and spinach omelet with avocado and salsa
  • Lunch roast chicken stir-fry
  • Snack mozzarella string cheese
  • Dinner chicken and broccoli Alfredo and a salad

Day 2

  • Breakfast eggs scrambled with sauteed onions & cheddar cheese
  • Lunch taco bowl with beef,  half an avocado, mixed greens, tomato, onions, and green peppers
  • Snacks Atkins Caramel Chocolate Nut Roll Bar; Muffin in a Minute
  •  Dinner fish with artichoke sauce, cauliflower, and a spinach salad

Day 3

Day 4

  • Breakfast red bell pepper stuffed with eggs and spinach
  • Lunch Atkins Chocolate Peanut Butter Bar
  • Snacks one cup sliced cucumber with two tbsp green goddess dressing; Atkins French Vanilla Shake
  • Dinner Atkins Frozen Crustless Chicken Pot Pie with ½ cup Brussels sprouts and one tbsp olive oil

Day 5

Day 6

  • Breakfast beef sautéed with peppers and onions and topped with cheese
  • Lunch Atkins Creamy Chocolate Shake
  • Snacks Atkins Caramel Chocolate Peanut Nougat Bar; five snap peas with two ounces (oz) of cheddar
  • Dinner Atkins Frozen Beef Merlot

Day 7

  • Breakfast Atkins Chocolate Almond Caramel Bar
  • Lunch Cobb salad
  • Snacks two celery stalks with two oz cheddar; ½ cup chopped red bell pepper with two tbsp ranch dressing
  • Dinner Atkins Frozen Meatloaf With Portobello Mushroom Gravy

Atkins 40

Here’s how a week of eating on the Atkins 40 diet might look. (2,9)

Day 1

  • Breakfast cheese and spinach omelet with avocado and salsa and a slice of whole-grain toast
  • Lunch roast chicken stir-fry
  • Snack a handful of walnuts or ¼ cup of blueberries
  • Dinner chicken and broccoli Alfredo and a salad

Day 2

  • Breakfast chicken chorizo with cauliflower sauté, cheese, and salsa
  • Lunch chicken over baby kale Caesar salad
  • Snacks Atkins Milk Chocolate Delight Shake; ½ small banana with two tbsp peanut butter
  • Dinner 6 oz salmon with ¼ cup wild rice, two cups mixed greens, and ½ cup sliced cucumbers

Day 3

  • Breakfast Atkins Plus Vanilla Shake
  • Lunch Atkins Frozen Shrimp Scampi with two cups mixed greens, one small tomato, ½ avocado, and two tbsp Caesar dressing
  • Snack two carrots with ¼ cup hummus; ½ cup blackberries with ½ cup Greek yogurt
  • Dinner Chimichurri Steak and Cauliflower Mash

Day 4

  • Breakfast oatmeal topped with ¼ cup chopped pecans and ¼ cup sliced strawberries
  • Lunch Five oz hamburger, one oz cheddar cheese, one medium tomato, ½ avocado, and two Bibb lettuce leaves
  • Snacks Creamy Lemon Smoothie; ½ cup chopped green bell pepper with one oz feta cheese and two tbsp green goddess dressing
  • Dinner six oz whitefish with ¼ cup lentils, one cup green beans, and one tbsp butter

Day 5

  • Breakfast Atkins Frozen Farmhouse-Style Sausage Scramble
  • Lunch six oz turkey cutlets, two cups mixed greens, ½ cup sliced green bell pepper, ½ cup sliced cucumber, ½ avocado, and two tbsp raspberry vinaigrette
  • Snacks ½ small apple and two oz cheddar cheese; two celery stalks with two tbsp feta-ranch dressing
  • Dinner Pork Chops With Fresh Mushrooms, Tomatoes, and Bell Pepper with ½ small baked potato, two tbsp butter, and two tbsp sour cream

Day 6

Day 7

Atkins 100

Here’s how a week of eating on the Atkins 100 diet might look. (10)

Day 1

  • Breakfast scrambled eggs with bacon, green bell peppers, tomato, and half a whole-wheat bagel.
  • Snacks small apple with one oz cheddar cheese; Atkins White Chocolate Macadamia Nut Bar
  • Lunch Atkins Frozen Meat Lasagna with two cups of mixed greens, ½ cup sliced cucumber, five cherry tomatoes,? Cup shredded carrot and two tbsp Creamy Italian Dressing
  • Dinner Popcorn Garlic Shrimp with two cups steamed broccoli, cauliflower, and ½ cup brown rice.

Day 2

  • Breakfast Milk Chocolate Protein Muffin and a small banana
  • Lunch Macaroni and Cauliflower Salad with five oz hamburger, two tbsp onions, two tbsp barbecue sauce, and a whole-wheat bun
  • Snacks Atkins Mocha Latte Shake; ½ cup strawberries and four oz plain, unsweetened Greek yogurt
  • Dinner six oz chicken breast, two tbsp Cajun Rub, ¼ baked acorn squash, two cups mixed greens, five cherry tomatoes, ¼ cup chickpeas, and two tbsp Blue Cheese Dressing

Day 3

  • Breakfast Atkins Farmhouse-Style Sausage Scramble with ½ cup cubed honeydew melon
  • Lunch Atkins Frozen Chicken Marsala with two cups mixed greens, ½ cup sliced red bell pepper, and two tbsp Parmesan Peppercorn Dressing.
  • Snacks Atkins Dark Chocolate Royale Shake; four tbsp black bean dip with 15 corn tortilla chips
  • Dinner six oz flank steak, two tbsp Barbecue Rub, one medium sweet potato, two cups baby kale, one small tomato, ¼ cup shredded carrot, and two tbsp Maple-Dijon Dressing

Day 4

Day 5

Day 6

Day 7

  • Breakfast Protein Powered Oatmeal and ½ cup blueberries
  • Lunch Daikon and Celery Salad with 3.2 ounces Italian sausage link, one cup whole-wheat macaroni, and ½ cup Basic Tomato Sauce
  • Snacks one small tomato with ½ cup cottage cheese; Atkins Dark Chocolate Almond Coconut Crunch Bar
  • Dinner Atkins Frozen Orange Chicken with ¼ cup brown rice and ½ cup peas

Atkins-Friendly Snack Ideas

You can choose snacks from the Atkins 20 program, such as ( 11).

  • Black olives and cheddar
  • Crab dip with vegetables
  • Cucumber guacamole
  • Kale chips
  • Smoked salmon, cucumber, and cream cheese roll-ups

You can eat all the above and snacks while on the Atkins 40 Plan such as: (4)

  • ¾ cup of blackberries
  • Greek yogurt
  • A slice of whole-grain toast with almond butter
  • Hummus

Atkins 100 followers can eat any snack as long as their daily net carbs don’t exceed 100g.

Here’s a basic Atkins Diet Shopping List

These are the essential foods that you will need to buy, regardless of whether you are following the Atkins 20, Atkins40, or Atkins100 diets.

  •  Proteins, including pork chops, ground beef, chicken, steak, salmon, and whitefish
  • Vegetables like Asparagus, Broccoli, Radishes, Mushrooms, cauliflower, and Spinach
  • Fats like butter and olive oil
  • Fruits like avocados
  • Full-fat dairy products like blue cheese dressing, cream,  and cheddar cheese

Tips for Dining Out While on Atkins Diet

It’s possible to eat out while still sticking to your diet with a little planning. When choosing a restaurant, first consider the food type. Rebecca Guterman RD, a New York City-based clinical dietitian, advises that you choose a restaurant that offers more protein-based dishes such as American restaurants over Italian ones.

You can also scan the online menu before you arrive to plan your order. Rissetto suggests looking for dishes that are based on lean meats or vegetables. She suggests a salad with grilled chicken, a burger without the bun, and a side of salad as a safe choice.

Here are some low-carb options at top restaurants across the country: (12).

  • Chili’s Chicken or Steak Fajitas with no toppings or tortillas and with a double serving of vegetables instead of rice
  •  Olive Garden Herb-Grilled Salmon with Parmesan garlic broccoli on the side 
  • The Cheesecake Factory Pan-Seared Branzino With Lemon Butter
  • P.F. Chang’s Shrimp With Lobster Sauce 

Don’t add condiments to your meal (Honey mustard, ketchup, and barbecue sauce are all sneakily high-carbohydrates), and choose a side salad or additional vegetables over a starchy side. (12)

The Pros and Cons of Following Atkins

As with any popular diet, there is both benefit and risk to a restricted diet. Here are some examples for the Atkins diet.


There are a few possible pros to following the Atkins nutritional approach.

One, it is easy to follow the diet. Every meal can be a struggle and a huge psychological burden for people with weight problems. A carbohydrate-restricted diet eliminates the battle,” says Richard D. Feinman, PhD, a biochemistry professor at the State University of New York Downstate Medical Center in Brooklyn, New York, and the founder and former co-editor in chief of the journal Nutrition & Metabolism. Dr. Feinman has published scientific research on Atkins and carbohydrate-restricted diets. He says that protein is the stable portion of the diet. It is going to allow you some control over your fight with food.

The diet does not include portion control which many people may consider a hindrance to popular diets. What does portion control mean? Feinman says that portion control is about self-control. Although small portions are good, on a low carbohydrate diet, you may still feel hungry and can have another small amount. You might be out of luck if you’re still hungry on a low-fat diet.

Susan Kraus, RD, is a clinical dietitian at Hackensack University Medical Center in New Jersey. She says that the Atkins diet’s simple structure can make it easy for people to follow. she says. “You focus on a few food groups, there’s simplicity in that you don’t have to measure foods, and you’re not feeling deprived.”

People with type 2 diabetes may find the low-carb diet helpful if they are trying to control their high blood sugar. Feinman says that reducing carbohydrates can have a positive impact on your health, regardless of whether you are losing weight. A January 2015 review in Nutrition showed that carbohydrate restriction could help in the treatment of type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome. (13)


The Atkins Nutritional Approach is not balanced. “With any diet that eliminates a whole food group, you’re not going to get all your nutrients,” states Barbara Schmidt RD, a lifestyle specialist with Norwalk Hospital and a private nutritionist in New Canaan, Connecticut.

Then there’s the lack of fiber. Fiber is an important nutrient that can help you feel satisfied and curb unhealthy cravings. Kraus says that by excluding all food groups, such as grains and fruits, even if you take a vitamin or mineral supplement, you are not getting enough fiber. “Phytochemicals, which are compounds naturally found in fruits, vegetables, and other foods, provide strong antioxidant effects that may not be found with a multivitamin or mineral supplement. They also offer fiber, calcium, and vitamin D, which would not be gotten by eating this way.”

According to Atkins, the Atkins diet can cause dehydration, resulting in lightheadedness and energy loss. (14) Carbs retain water in your body, so if you don’t eat carbohydrates, you will lose a lot of water. Kraus says that this can increase uric acid and cause a Gout attack. It can also cause calcium loss through urine. This can overwork your kidneys and liver.

Researchers cautioned in a May 2015 article in Advances in Nutrition that while high-protein diets may work for some people who want to lose weight it is important to talk to your healthcare provider about whether this option is safe for you. (15) A study published in Annals of Internal Medicine suggests that a high protein diet may result in decreased kidney function for women with mild to moderately severe renal disease. (16)

However, you should drink more water if your protein intake is increasing. According to the Atkins diet, you should drink at least eight 8-ounce glasses of water each day. (14)

The Atkins Diet: Short- and long-term effects

You can quickly see results by adhering to the Atkins diet in the short term. Kraus says that the Atkins diet reduces food intake as you don’t feel hungry. A healthy person can adhere to the diet for up to a few months without suffering any negative effects. Even if it doesn’t result in weight loss, your health may still benefit. A June 2019 small study in the Journal of Clinical Investigation Insight showed that about half of study participants who were overweight and had metabolic syndrome (which can lead to type 2 diabetes) at the beginning of the study were no longer considered to have this condition after they followed a low-carb diet for four consecutive weeks. (17)

However, it may not be healthy to continue eating this way for the rest of your life. According to a March 2019 study in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, a low-carb diet can increase the risk of atrial fibrillation (afib), a common heart rhythm disorder. (18) Kraus is also concerned that this can alter the way dieters see food. “Drastic plans cause a warped view of how to lose weight, creating a different sense of what’s okay and what’s not okay. A dieter might be mortified to have a little pasta or slice of bread.”

Feinman’s take on Atkins is a bit tongue-in-cheek. “Losing weight can be done by not eating. Avoid eating carbs unless you absolutely have to. If you must eat carbs, make carbs that are low on the glycemic index.”

Last Word on Using Atkins Diet to Lose weight

Low-carb diets are becoming more popular. Researchers have done various studies to evaluate their effectiveness and other health effects. Harvard School of Public Health points out that low-carb diets may help people lose weight faster and keep it off longer than low-fat ones. They also note that moderately low-carb diets are good for heart health, containing healthy fats and protein. (19)

An analysis of 23 random controlled trials with over 2,500 participants was done in a past meta-analysis. ( 20). Researchers found that participants who ate low-carbohydrate diets experienced statistically significant decreases in total cholesterol and triglyceride levels. They also saw similar weight and waist circumference reductions to low-fat diets. A second study published in The BMJ in October 2018 found that low-carb diets were more effective at maintaining weight loss than those who ate higher amounts of carbs. (21)

Popeck explains that the low-carb diet works this way: When carbs are low, the body has to burn more fat for fuel, creating ketones, which can provide energy. The body produces ketones when it burns fat instead of carbs. This is a common phenomenon for people who eat low-carb diets like Atkins and the keto diets.

Popeck points out that it’s not clear if such diets will work long-term. Popeck says that low-carb diets can be difficult to sustain and nutritionally unbalanced. My clinic has many patients who have tried the Atkins diet and successfully lost weight. However, they regain it and have difficulty losing weight again.

She doesn’t recommend them. She says, “I don’t like to promote diets because most people see them as temporary.” A low-carb diet may be a way to make healthier choices by eliminating sweets, sugars and processed food. However, I have found that feelings of deprivation often lead to rebound binging and not a permanent change.

She encourages clients to view diet planning as a lifestyle, where all food can be accommodated.

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