This Meal Plan for the Atkins diet (or Atkins/Low Carb) is designed for a normal woman who’s moderately active mostly in the day. It’s also vegetarian and not just vegan. This means that everything is veggie-based and you’ll be getting more fiber, vitamins and nutrients.
The Atkins 20 Diet
The Atkins diet promotes weight loss through a low-carbohydrate diet. Backers of the Atkins diet say it can also prevent or improve many health conditions, including high blood pressure and heart disease.
WebMD takes a closer look at the Atkins diet and helps you decide if it is right for you.
The Atkins 20 Diet: How It Works
The Atkins diet has evolved since its creation in 1972. There are now two Atkins diets: Atkins 20 (the original diet, which is described here and is based on intake of 20 grams of Net Carbs) and the new Atkins 40, which is less strict (based on intake of 40 grams of Net Carbs).
The main features of the diet haven’t changed: Lose weight and improve health by eating a low-carbohydrate diet that consists of:
- Healthy fat
The diet has an Atkins Food Guide Pyramid that helps explain the Atkins method. At the top of the pyramid are foods that you can eat a little of — but only after you have lost weight. These include whole grains such as:
Missing from the Atkins Food Pyramid are “white” foods — forbidden foods that you should avoid. These include:
- White sugar
- White rice
- White bread
- White potatoes
- Pasta made with white flour
You don’t have to count calories on the Atkins diet as long as you are reasonable with portion sizes. The only thing you have to calculate are carbohydrates. Specifically you need to count Net Carbs — the total grams of carbohydrates minus grams of fiber.
Atkins Diet Phases
The Atkins diet consists of phases. The amount of Net Carbs you eat each day varies based on the phase.
Phase 1 — Induction. This is the strictest part of the diet. You must avoid all:
- Starchy vegetables
- Dairy products (except cheese and butter)
You eat only 20 grams of Net Carbs daily. That’s significantly less than the FDA recommendation of 300 grams of carbohydrates daily.
The goal of phase 1 is to rev up your body’s ability to burn fat. And because you lose the most weight during this phase, it is designed to motivate you to stick with the diet.
Phase 2 — Ongoing weight loss (OWL). During phase 2, you slowly add some whole food carbohydrates back to your diet, such as:
- Tomato juice
You can eat between 25 and 50 Net Carbs daily. Phase 2 lasts until you are about 10 pounds from your desired weight.
Phase 3 — Pre-maintenance. During phase 3, you continue to add a variety of carbohydrates to your diet, including more:
- Starchy vegetables
- Whole grains
You can eat 50 to 80 Net Carbs daily. Phase 3 lasts for at least a month after reaching your desired weight.
Phase 4 — Lifetime maintenance. Once you reach your ideal weight, you continue to eat a predominantly low-carbohydrate (80-100 Net Carbs per day) diet for life. By this time, you should have a good idea of how many carbohydrates you can eat to maintain your weight.
Science Behind the Theory
The main idea behind the Atkins diet is to change your metabolism so that you burn fat for energy instead of glucose, a process called ketosis.
When you eat foods high in carbohydrates, such as refined sugar, your body turns it into glucose. Your body can only store a certain amount of glucose. So it burns it off first, leaving fat to accumulate in the body.
The theory goes that if you significantly cut back on the amount of carbohydrates you eat, your body will spend more time burning fat and you will lose weight.
Not only does the Atkins diet change your metabolism, studies show that eating more protein helps to curb appetite.
Does It Really Work and Is It Safe?
Studies have shown that people who stick to a low-carbohydrate diet like Atkins can lose weight.
A study in The Journal of the American Medical Association comparing diets found that women on the Atkins diet lost more weight and experienced more health benefits. After one year on the Atkins diet, people in the study lost an average of 10 pounds. They also had improved triglyceride levels and lower blood pressure. But experts say any diet that helps you lose weight will probably improve your cholesterol.
Since most studies on the Atkins diet last a year or less, researchers don’t know if the health benefits from the diet are maintained and if the diet is safe for long-term use. Some points to remember include:
- Many experts caution that eating a diet high in saturated fats can increase your risk of heart disease and cancer.
- A high protein diet can be harmful to those who have had previous kidney problems.
- And critics say the Atkins diet omits important nutrients such as vitamin C and potassium. People on the Atkins diet are encouraged to take an iron-free multivitamin and mineral supplement and an omega-3 supplement that contains fish oil.
- The Atkins diet also goes against dietary guidelines put out by many health organizations and medical professionals, including the American Heart Association, the American Dietetic Association, Dietary Guidelines for Americans, and the American Cancer Society. These groups recommend a diet with more whole grains, fruit, vegetables, and lower saturated fats.
What Is the Atkins Diet?
At Verywell, we believe there is no one-size-fits-all approach to a healthy lifestyle. Successful eating plans need to be individualized and take the whole person into consideration. Prior to starting a new diet plan, consult with your healthcare provider or a registered dietitian, especially if you have an underlying health condition.
What Is the Atkins Diet?
The Atkins diet is a widely recognized low-carb diet plan. The current program allows you to choose from different eating styles based on your weight loss or health goals. For example, Atkins 20 and Atkins 40 are described as keto diets by the company.
According to the company, an average person can expect to lose 1 to 2 pounds per week on the plan. People who are already at a healthy body size might use the Atkins program to maintain their weight. The 2021 U.S. News and World Report Best Diets ranks the Atkins diet number 33 in Best Diets Overall and gives it an overall score of 2.1/5.
What Experts Say
“The Atkins diet is a carbohydrate-limiting weight loss diet. Health professionals agree limiting fiber-rich food groups can lead to constipation and nutrient imbalances. A focus on counting carbohydrates prompts eating by numbers instead of exploring individual likes and needs.”
The 7-Day Diet Plan
While there are many different versions of the diet, here is one example.
- Day 1: 1 small tomato, 4 to 6 ounces eggs, 1/2 tablespoon oil, coffee; Atkins bar; 4 to 6 ounces tuna, 2 cups salad greens, 1 tablespoon dressing; 2 tablespoons peanut butter, 5 stalks celery; 4 to 6 ounces turkey, 1/2 cup sauteed spinach and mushrooms in olive oil, diet soda
- Day 2: 1/2 cup zucchini, 4 to 6 ounces eggs, 1/2 tablespoon oil, coffee; Atkins bar; 4 to 6 ounces ham, 1 ounce gouda, 1/2 cup sauerkraut; 30 almonds, 10 cherry tomatoes; 4 to 6 ounces venison, 1/2 cup sauteed kale and bell pepper in olive oil, almond milk
- Day 3: 6 stalks asparagus, 4 to 6 ounces ham, 1/2 tablespoon oil, coffee; Atkins bar; 4 to 6 ounces chicken, 2 cups salad greens, 1 tablespoon dressing; 1 ounce cheddar cheese, 1/2 cup sliced cucumber; 4 to 6 ounces beef, 1/2 cup sauteed zucchini and broccolini in olive oil, tea
- Day 4: 1/2 cup beet greens, 4 to 6 ounces eggs, 1/2 tablespoon oil, coffee; Atkins bar; 4 to 6 ounces salmon, 2 cups salad greens, 1 tablespoon dressing; 2 tablespoons whipped cream cheese, 1/2 cup sliced cucumber; 4 to 6 ounces venison, 1/2 cup sauteed green pepper and mushrooms in olive oil, herb tea
- Day 5: 1/2 cup sauerkraut, 4 to 6 ounces ham, 1 ounce walnuts, coffee; Atkins bar; 4 to 6 ounces hard-boiled eggs, 2 cups salad greens, 1 tablespoon dressing; 1 ounce feta cheese, 3 marinated artichokes; 4 to 6 ounces venison, 1/2 cup sauteed green pepper and mushrooms in olive oil, herb tea
- Day 6: 6 stalks asparagus, 4 to 6 ounces eggs, 1 ounce parmesan cheese, coffee; Atkins bar; 4 to 6 ounces trout, 2 cups spinach, 1 tablespoon olive oil; 2 tablespoon s whipped cream cheese, 10 cherry tomatoes; 4 to 6 ounces lamb, 2 cups bok choy and mushrooms in olive oil, seltzer
- Day 7: 1/2 avocado, 4 ounces eggs, 2 slices bacon, coffee; Atkins bar; 4 to 6 ounces halibut, 1/2 cup Brussels sprouts, 1 tablespoon oil; 2 tablespoons whipped cream cheese, 2 tablespoons peanut butter, 5 stalks celery; 4 to 6 ounces pork, 1/2 cup sauteed kale and bell pepper in olive oil, diet soda
What You Can Eat
Proportions and some compliant foods can vary on different Atkins plans and phases. But in general, expect to consume these foods when following the Atkins diet.
Fruits, Vegetables, and Legumes
Non-starchy vegetables are encouraged on the Atkins eating plan. On the most restrictive phase of Atkins 20 (Phase 1), consumers are advised to consume 12 to 15 grams of net carbs from these vegetables per day. You can add fruits and legumes in Phase 2 of Atkins 20. The Atkins 40 and Atkins 100 plans allow fruits and legumes at all times.
Meat, Fish, and Cheese
Meat is not required on the Atkins plan. If you prefer not to eat meat, you can follow the vegetarian program. But if you follow the traditional plan, many types of protein are encouraged. Cheese is also on the acceptable foods list, but Atkins recommends consuming no more than 3 to 4 ounces per day. Processed meats with nitrates are not recommended.
- Parmesan cheese
Nuts and Seeds
After two weeks on Atkins 20, people on this plan can begin to add fiber-rich carb sources in five net carb increments.
- Peanut butter
- Sunflower seeds
You should consume a few tablespoons per day of added fats like oils in the Atkins diet.
- Olive oil
- Sugar-free mayonnaise
- Canola oil
- Walnut oil
- Soybean oil
- Grapeseed oil
- Sesame oil
- Sunflower oil
- Safflower oil
What You Cannot Eat
The Atkins Diet eliminates foods that are higher in carbohydrates.
Atkins is a low-carb diet plan, so grains are not permitted.
Added sugars are not part of the Atkins diet. Be sure to check labels for hidden sugars.
- Desserts with sugar
- Coffee beverages with sugar
- Condiments with sugar
How to Prepare the Atkins Diet & Tips
The Atkins diet plan relies on knowing how much carbohydrate is in everything you eat. Specifically, people following this diet count “net carbs.” Net carbs are calculated by checking the total grams of carbohydrates in a portion of food and subtracting the number of grams of fiber and sugar alcohols or glycerin (if applicable).
There are three Atkins programs based on different levels of net carb intake per day. The company recommends that you check with your healthcare provider for personalized advice before choosing a program to manage a medical condition.
Over the years, Robert Atkins, MD, the cardiologist who created the diet, refined his approach as new research about diet and nutrition became available. The Atkins diet still focuses on limiting carbohydrates, but offers different intake levels based on consumers’ health goals. People on the Atkins diet are also advised to make nutritious food choices, including healthy fats, fiber-rich carbohydrates, and a wide range of protein sources such as seafood, beef, and poultry.
People think of the Atkins diet as primarily a weight loss diet,1 but some people also use the eating program to control blood glucose, reduce blood pressure, or gain other health benefits. One of the diet’s main goals is to help find the optimal amount of carbohydrates for each person’s body.
On each of the Atkins plans, net carbs are divided between three meals and two snacks per day, so that blood sugar remains stable throughout the day. You don’t count calories on these programs, but portion size recommendations are provided. Additionally, certain foods (such as added fats) are limited.
The Atkins 20 plan is what most would consider the classic Atkins plan. It is designed for those who have over 40 pounds to lose, have a waist size of over 35 (for women) or 40 (for men), or have pre-diabetes or diabetes.
People on this program start by consuming just 20 net carbs per day. They eat various approved vegetables, lean meats, cheese, and healthy fats to meet their energy needs. After two weeks on Atkins 20, people on this plan can begin to add fiber-rich carb sources, 5 net carbs at a time. Gradually, they learn to incorporate more healthy carbohydrate choices to reach and maintain their goal weight.
There are four phases to the Atkins 20 program:
- Induction phase: Two weeks or longer, keep net carbs at the lowest level
- Balancing phase: Slowly add grams of net carbs to find the best carbohydrate balance
- Fine-tuning phase: At least one month; make small tweaks to reach and maintain goal weight
- Lifetime maintenance: Continue to eat a healthy diet with limited carbohydrates to maintain goal weight
This plan offers a more relaxed program where you can eat from all food groups from day one. The plan is designed for people who have 40 pounds or less to lose, those who prefer a wider variety of food choices, or for people who are breastfeeding and wish to lose weight.
This is the most relaxed Atkins eating program, allowing 100 grams of net carbs per day with no other restrictions. It is designed for those who want to maintain their current weight, who prefer the widest variety of food choices, or for people who are breastfeeding and have a goal to maintain weight.
Pros of the Atkins Diet
Since weight loss can improve many health outcomes,2 the Atkins diet may confer benefits by successfully helping people lose weight. It may also offer other helpful side effects.
- Provides options: Choosing the less restrictive Atkins plans may offer a less complicated and effective way to lose weight. A review of diets for weight loss and blood pressure reduction showed that at 6 months, the Atkins diet produced an average of 12 pounds of weight loss, the highest in the study. However, at 12 months, weight loss diminished in all diets, including Atkins. Researchers concluded that “at 12 months the effects on weight reduction and improvements in cardiovascular risk factors largely disappear.”3
- Prepackaged meals available: For many busy people, this work may seem overwhelming. As an alternative, consumers can choose to purchase an Atkins meal plan and get pre-packaged meals, smoothies, and snacks.
- Increases nutritious food intake: Followers of the Atkins diet are likely to replace those less healthy foods with more nutrient-dense ones, such as those on the Atkins Acceptable Foods lists. That means a likely increase in intake of important micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) and macronutrients (protein and fiber).
- Satiety: Protein and fat are digested slowly and have a high satiety rate. The Atkins diet may keep you more satisfied with your meals than other weight-loss diets, which in turn could lead to better compliance.
Cons of the Atkins Diet
For many people, an Atkins diet is a major departure from their typical eating pattern. That can mean some discomfort, as well as difficulty sticking with the program.
- Expensive: Even if you don’t buy pre-packaged Atkins foods, the diet requires plenty of protein sources and limits cheaper, processed foods. For this reason, it might be more expensive than your usual diet.
- May be challenging: If you currently consume a standard American diet, adjusting to an Atkins plan may be challenging, especially if you choose to go on the Atkins 20 plan. Additionally, even though you don’t have to count calories on the Atkins diet, you need to count carbs, calculate net carbs, and balance carbs between meals and snacks. You’ll also need to use food lists to make sure you’re consuming compliant foods.
- Side effects: Typically, people consume most of their calories from carbohydrates. Cutting back on carbs can lead to symptoms including headaches, fatigue, mood swings, and constipation.
- Short-term weight loss: The fast weight-loss effects you might experience on the Atkins diet could be short-lived. Much of the initial weight loss will likely be due to water loss from limited carbohydrates. Regaining weight can be frustrating and demotivating for many people.
Atkins Diet: The Ultimate Guide
The ketogenic diet may be the “it” low-carb diet for weight loss right now, but its predecessor the Atkins diet is the original version of this restrictive eating approach. “Atkins and keto are both low-carb diets that may benefit weight loss, diabetes management, and heart health,” says Vanessa Rissetto, RD, a nutritionist based in Hoboken, New Jersey.
In addition to keto being much higher in fat than Atkins, a main difference between Atkins and keto, Rissetto says, “is that you gradually increase your carb intake on Atkins,” Meanwhile, she adds, carbs “remain very low on the keto diet, allowing your body to stay in ketosis and burn ketones for energy.”
Today, the diet, also called the Atkins Nutritional Approach, comes in three versions.
Atkins 20 is for people who:
- Want to lose more than 40 pounds (lb)
- Have a waist circumference of over 35 inches (women) or 40 inches (men), or
- Have prediabetes or type 2 diabetes
Atkins 40 is for people who:
- Want to lose fewer than 40 lb
- Are pregnant or breastfeeding, and want to lose weight
- Require a diet with a wider variety of foods
Atkins 100 is for people who:
- Want to maintain their current weight
- Are pregnant
- Are breastfeeding and trying to maintain their weight
Before trying any version of the Atkins diet — and especially if you are pregnant and considering Atkins 100 — check with your healthcare team.
An Overview of the 3 Atkins Diet Plans
All forms of the Atkins diet are focused on restricting what are called net carbs (including those in veggies) and emphasize eating protein and healthy types of fat. Select carbs are added back to your diet as you start approaching your weight loss goal.
Atkins defines net carbs as grams of carbs minus grams of fiber and grams of sugar alcohols. (Note that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration [FDA] does not recognize “net carbs” as an accepted nutritional term.) (2)
Atkins 20 and Atkins 40 involve various phases, while Atkins 100 is considered a lifestyle approach and calls for consuming no more than 100 net carbs per day. In Atkins 20, your initial, “induction” phase limits you to 20 grams (g) of net carbohydrates, while in Atkins 40, your initial, induction, phase limits you to 40 g of net carbohydrates, which gives you a little more flexibility in the foods you can eat in the beginning (including, for example, select fruits), the Atkins website notes. (1) In Atkins 20, you add net carbs back to your diet in 5 g increments (20, 25, 30, and so on), while in Atkins 40, you add net carbs back to your diet in 10 g increments, explains Lauren Popeck, RD, of Orlando Health in Florida.
How to Tell the Difference Between Good and Bad Carbs
When you aren’t on a low-carb diet, choosing complex, not simple, carbohydrates provides more nutrients and steady energy.
Atkins 20 Foods
To help jump-start your weight loss on the Atkins 20, you might consume some of the following foods:
- Foundation veggies, such as broccoli, spinach, bok choy, and cucumbers
- Protein, like eggs, chicken, and beef
- All fish, including salmon, cod, flounder, and herring
- Butter and olive oil
- Some cheeses, such as cheddar, goat, Swiss, and Parmesan
You can find a full, comprehensive food list for phase one of the Atkins 20 on the Atkins website.
Atkins 40 Foods
If you’re following the Atkins 40 plan, you can eat all of the above, as well as the following foods (so long as you keep net carbs under 40 g per day):
- Nuts and seeds
- Legumes (beans)
- Starchy vegetables, like squash, potatoes, and beets
- Whole grains, like barley, whole-grain rice, and whole-wheat pasta
Atkins 100 Foods
Atkins 100 followers can eat virtually all foods, so long as you do not exceed 100 g of net carbs per day. Carbs can add up fast if you’re eating sugar or refined carbs, so it’s best to limit or avoid those. (1)
The premise of the Atkins Diet is that if you count and limit carbs — the body’s usual fuel — your body will be forced to burn your fat stores for energy, thereby promoting weight loss. As with many other fad diets, the main idea is to stop eating foods made with refined flour and sugar. But if you’re trying to follow the Atkins 20, even carb-dense whole-grain foods are on the don’t-eat list until you reach the maintenance phase.
“Cutting out carbs can contribute to weight loss initially. However, eliminating whole food groups, such as grains, milk, yogurt, and fruit, is likely unsustainable and inadequate in nutrients,” Popeck cautions. “Fiber will certainly be lacking, as well as calcium, potassium, and other vitamins and minerals.” More on this in the cons section.