Why you shouldn't treat Atkins as a protein free for all

It’s a common misconception that Atkins is a “high protein” diet when, in actual fact, there are guidelines for every phase which indicate that moderate amounts of protein foods should be eaten with each meal. It’s true that eating protein may boost metabolism and help you to feel fuller but this doesn’t mean that Atkins is the protein ‘free for all’ that many believe it to be and excessive amounts of steak, cheese, eggs and other foods shouldn’t be over-eaten, and this is for a valid reason.

If you consume too much protein then this can be converted into glucose by a process called ‘gluconeogenesis’. The conversion of protein to glucose occurs as a result of the hormone, glucagon, which prevents low blood sugar and so isn’t a bad thing unless you are OVER-consuming protein. You see, when you reduce carbs, you go into ‘ketosis’ or fat burning and you produce ketones which are also used for energy. The small amount of glucose needed for brain function comes partly from the process of gluconeogenesis. This means you’ve no need for high amounts of carbs, above and beyond the ‘good’ carbs which you get from vegetables, pulses etc.; and this is for their nutritional factor as they are packed with fibre and other nutrients.

When following Atkins, if you do overeat protein foods then you can stall the transition to ketosis; or even get knocked out of this fat burning state altogether. Don’t worry too much though as gluconeogenesis is a slow process and so you’ll not instantly stop burning fat if you eat a steak that’s too large, or you have an extra helping of bacon on your full English breakfast. However don’t eat large helpings of meat or eggs on a daily basis as this may set you back and stall weight loss.

It’s also depends on you as a person as some people are more sensitive to protein and are best advised to err on the lower end of the scale when choosing meals. Others can eat more protein and needs will increase if you’re exercising too. So start off with a reasonable amount per meal and you can always add or subtract the size of your steak or chicken breast; if weight loss stalls. Start with 115g-175g in weight of protein foods per meal, up to 225g if you’re a bigger man. This is roughly a palm sized piece of poultry, meat or fish; or 2 eggs in an omelette. 

Don’t worry though, there are so many delicious foods you can eat on Atkins; so you won’t go hungry! How about filling your breakfast omelette with some grated cheese, chopped red pepper & mushrooms? Or have a side of cauliflower cheese with your salmon fillet? Fill a chicken breast with cream cheese and wrap it in prosciutto? Or top your steak with some peppercorn sauce. Just because you reduce the size of the protein source doesn’t mean it has to be less filling, in fact just the opposite as you’ve find these tasty additions will help you to feel fuller as they’re higher in fat too.

Do you control your portion sizes, or find you can eat larger amounts? I’d love to hear your experiences on Atkins so please come and join the conversation in our forum

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Posted by Linda O'Byrne
Atkins Nutritionist