The question of which is the best low carb diet often comes up for people who are searching for ways to incorporate the low carb way of eating into their lives. Low carbohydrate food plans can be very effective but they are not always easy.
Atkins Low Carb Diet
Dr Robert Atkins is credited with making the low carb diet popular with his book ‘Dr Atkins’ Diet Revolution’, first published in 1972. It was largely revised in ‘Dr Atkins’ New Diet Revolution’ (2002) which remains the ‘bible’ for many people following the Atkins diet despite later amendments by the company that took over Dr Atkins’ business after his death.
The Atkins diet focuses on restricting carbohydrate intake to a very low amount (under 20 net carbs) for a two- week induction period, then gradually increasing them to the point where you stop losing (the ‘critical carbohydrate level for losing’). Foods are also limited during induction, and then gradually added back.
You can eat unlimited meat, fish, eggs and pure fats (oils and butter) at all times. Cheese, cream and vegetables are limited in induction, although you are advised to eat at least 2 cups of lower carbohydrate vegetables from the approved list. Milk, nuts, fruit, beans, starchy vegetables, whole grains, whole wheat products and alcohol are not allowed during induction but are added back later. Refined carbohydrates such as white bread and sugar are not allowed at any stage.
South Beach Low Carb Diet
The South Beach Diet was developed by Dr Arthur Agatston. In the first phase it is very similar to Atkins induction but includes a few more foods, for example beans, nuts and seeds in limited quantities. Other foods are phased in later.
South Beach is more restrictive in the types of fats consumed, promoting monounsaturated fats (olive oil, canola oil) and minimizing saturated fats like butter.
The main difference in format between South Beach and Atkins is that South Beach counts portions while Atkins counts grams of net carbohydrates (subtracting fiber, which is not digested).
Other Low Carb Diets
There are many other low carb diet choices out there. Some of the best known are Protein Power, the Sonoma diet and the Paleo diet. Broadly speaking they follow the same principle which is that restricting carbohydrates allows the body to go into lipolysis or ‘fat-burning’ mode, resulting in weight loss. At the same time there is plenty of fat consumed, which helps people stick to the diet because they do not feel hungry, even when calorie intake is relatively low.
So now for the big question: which is the best low carb diet? The answer will lie with you to some extent. Low carb diets do work provided you can keep to the rules. But think about what suits your lifestyle or food preferences before you start.
Vegetarians will find the induction phase of Atkins difficult, although it is possible as long as you eat both eggs and dairy foods. South Beach is probably easier for vegetarians.
The gram-counting style of Atkins low carb diet is good for people with an analytical type of mind who like to know exactly where they are with a diet. South Beach would be better for people who would find carb-counting annoying and wouldn’t actually do it.
The bottom line is this: the best low carb diet is the one that you can stick to.