Star ratings reflect scores of 1 to 5 assigned to the Atkins diet in eight categories by nutritionists, specialists in diabetes and heart disease, and other diet experts on a ratings panel assembled by U.S. News. (See our Best Diets methodology.) When we combined the ratings, Atkins came out next to last overall. It got very high marks for quick weight loss. But the panelists put it at the bottom for nutritional soundness, gave it low ratings for safety and heart health, and were only slightly more positive about how easy it is to follow and its prospects for long-term weight loss. Below are ratings in all categories and how the experts’ opinions broke down.
Short-Term Weight Loss
A large part of this diet’s appeal is its claim of quick weight loss—as much as 15 pounds in two weeks, according to the company. Our experts agreed that it’s a legitimate pitch. They gave Atkins 4 stars, tied with top-rated Weight Watchers and second only to Biggest Loser.
Long-Term Weight Loss
Low-carb diets are notoriously unsustainable, and Atkins’ lackluster performance in the long-term weight-loss category reflected that. Most experts handed out 2 or 3 stars. Some panelists commented on a lack of sound evidence to persuade them that the diet warranted higher marks.
Easy to Follow
Atkins scored below average on this measure. With so many foods effectively off limits, some experts noted that staying on the diet isn’t simple. Research has shown that even in clinical trials, when participants know they are being studied, they have trouble adhering to Atkins.
Our panelists ranked Atkins last in nutritional completeness. Compared with the recommendations of the federal government’s 2010 Dietary Guidelines, it blew past the suggested daily amounts of total and saturated fat and came up far short on carbs. Concerned about dieters getting too little whole grains, fruits, and vegetables, the experts doled out mostly 1s and 2s.
With just 2.2 stars, Atkins was the second-lowest scorer in the category that evaluates a diet’s possible health risks. Its incomplete nutrition profile and lack of long-term safety data didn’t sit well with experts. Several others did, with 13 of the diets ranked very or extremely safe.
Although the Atkins diet claims to help prevent or manage diabetes, our expert panel didn’t buy it. One panelist observed that the high level of saturated fat intake on the diet can hike the risk of insulin resistance, a hallmark of type 2 diabetes. Atkins scored lower than most other diets in this category, landing near the bottom.
For Heart Health
Cardiovascular health is one of the Atkins diet’s weakest points, based on the panelists’ ratings. With 2.1 stars in this category, it ranked near the bottom of the list. The absence of studies that could convincingly demonstrate heart benefits played a role in the experts’ assessment, as did the diet’s total fat and saturated fat content.
Last updated by Kurtis Hiatt | January 07, 2013
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