Eco-Atkins Diet Overview

Scorecard

Overall
Weight Loss Short-term
Weight Loss Long-term
Easy to Follow
Nutrition
Safety
For Diabetes
For Heart Health

Scores are based on experts' reviews

Pros & Cons

  • Less restrictive than Atkins
  • Filling—it’s rich in high-fiber foods
  • You’re on your own
  • Meat-lovers are out of luck

Do's & Don'ts

Don’t: Indulge in saturated and trans fats, like butter, whole milk and hydrogenated vegetable oils See more Do's & Don'ts

Overview

Type:

Low-carb.

Resembles these U.S. News-rated diets:

Vegetarian Diet, Vegan Diet, Atkins, South Beach Diet, Paleo Diet

The aim:

Weight loss, heart health.

The claim:

You’ll drop about 8 pounds per month, and see improvements in your blood pressure, cholesterol, and triglycerides, a fatty substance that in excess has been linked to heart disease.

The theory:

Low carbs can lower the risk of death from heart disease and almost all other medical causes when the diet substitutes high-protein plants for fatty, cholesterol-loaded meat, and piles on fruits and vegetables. Nutritional scientist David Jenkins at Canada’s University of Toronto popularized this twist on Atkins a couple of years ago.

How does the Eco-Atkins Diet work?

Eco-Atkins calls for 31 percent of daily calories to come from plant proteins, 43 percent from plant fats, and 26 percent from carbs. Beyond that there are no strict rules, and you can adapt it to fit your needs; most followers eliminate all animal sources but others incorporate fish, lean white meat, and occasional dairy products.

Protein needs focus on beans—white, black, pinto, or garbanzo. Other good sources include nuts, high-protein vegetables like Brussels sprouts, and grains like couscous and pearl barley. An ounce of almonds provides 6 grams of protein—more than 10 percent of a 150-pound person's daily protein needs. A small portion of cooked broccoli—half a cup—offers 2 grams.

You’ll also swap unhealthy for healthy fats. Saturated and trans fats—think butter, whole milk, fatty cuts of beef, and hydrogenated vegetable oils—can be harmful. Omega-3 fatty acids, nut butters, seeds, avocados, and olives are heart-healthier options. Vegetable oils such as canola oil, flaxseed oil, and walnut oil are also beneficial. They can be used for cooking, as salad dressings, or toppings. Canola oil, for instance, is mild and bland, so it won't interfere with the flavors of your main ingredients.

The final step is choosing carbs wisely. You have more leeway than you would on the traditional Atkins diet—26 percent of calories come from carbs, vs. as low as 10 percent on Atkins. Starchy options like white bread, rice, potatoes, and baked goods top the Eco-Atkins "don't-eat" list, while fruit, vegetables, whole-grain cereal, whole-wheat bread, and oats are recommended.

Will you lose weight?

Eco-Atkins does appear to be an effective way to drop pounds.

  • In a small, short study, researchers split 47 overweight adults with high cholesterol into two groups. For four weeks, one group followed the Eco-Atkins diet while the other group followed a high-carb, lacto-ovo vegetarian diet (58 percent carbs, 16 percent protein, and 25 percent fat). By month’s end, very few participants in either group had dropped out. In both groups, the average weight loss was nearly 5 percent of initial body weight, or about 9 pounds, according to findings published in 2009 in the Archives of Internal Medicine. That’s significant because if you’re overweight, losing just 5 to 10 percent of your current weight can help stave off some diseases.
  • Yet regardless of claims made for low-carb diets, it’s unclear whether the main reason for weight loss is carb restriction or simply cutting calories. A study published in 2009 in the New England Journal of Medicine found that after two years, participants assigned either to a 35 percent or a 65 percent carb diet lost roughly the same amount of weight—6 to 7½ pounds on average. And in 2003, researchers who analyzed nearly 100 low-carb studies concluded in the Journal of the American Medical Association that weight loss on those diets was associated mostly with calorie restriction—not with cutting carbs.

Does it have cardiovascular benefits?

Yes. Research suggests Eco-Atkins helps keep cholesterol and blood pressure in check and heart disease at bay. That’s in large part because plant protein is higher in fiber than is animal protein, with less fat and no cholesterol.

  • Eco-Atkins can significantly reduce cholesterol levels. In the Archives of Internal Medicine study mentioned in the above weight loss section, participants following the diet saw a greater drop in their “bad” LDL cholesterol (20.4 percent) than did those following a high-carb diet (12.3 percent). Improvements in total cholesterol and “good” HDL cholesterol were also greater in the low-carb group. Eco-Atkins dieters also experienced small but statistically significant improvements in blood pressure, and they lowered their triglycerides, strengthening past findings that soy products and nuts can reduce triglycerides.
  • After following more than 85,000 women for 26 years and 44,000 men for 20 years, researchers found that an Eco-Atkins-like diet reduced the risk of death from all medical causes, especially heart disease, while a low-carb regimen similar to Atkins that was heavy on meat raised the risk of dying from cancer and other causes. Eco-Atkins dieters had a 20 percent lower death rate during the study period, and a 23 percent lower risk of dying from heart disease, according to findings published in the Annals of Internal Medicine in 2010. Participants following the Atkins-like diet, however, had a 23 percent increased risk of death during the study period and a 14 percent greater risk of dying from heart disease.

Can it prevent or control diabetes?

No good evidence suggests that Eco-Atkins accomplishes either.

Prevention: Research on Eco-Atkins and other low-carb diets is sparse. However, diabetes experts emphasize that weight gain from excessive caloric intake, regardless of where those calories come from, increases the risk of developing insulin resistance—a frequent precursor to type 2 diabetes—in which the body doesn’t respond as it should to the hormone. Losing weight and keeping it off, no matter the diet, will almost certainly reduce your risk of developing the chronic disease.

Control: A few recent studies have shown that low-carb approaches help lower blood glucose and insulin levels—suggesting they may stave off diabetes or help diabetics control their condition—but they don’t do so significantly better than other diets. The American Diabetes Association says a diet like Eco-Atkins that’s based on vegetables, fruits, grains, and legumes can help people with type 2 diabetes control their blood sugar levels. Because there are no rigid meal plans or prepackaged meals, you can ensure that what you’re eating doesn’t go against your doctor’s advice.

Are there health risks?

No indications of serious risks or side effects have surfaced, but if you have a health condition, check with your doctor before starting Eco-Atkins.

How well does it conform to accepted dietary guidelines?

Fat. Eco-Atkins calls for 43 percent of daily calories to come from fat, exceeding the 20 to 35 percent recommended in the government’s 2010 Dietary Guidelines. But these come from healthy fats, such as vegetable oil, nuts, and peanut butter.

Protein. It’s in line with the recommendations for protein consumption.

Carbohydrates. At 26 percent of daily calories from carbs, it falls short of the government’s recommended 45 to 65 percent.

Salt. The majority of Americans eat too much salt. The recommended daily maximum is 2,300 milligrams, but if you’re 51 or older or African-American, or have hypertension, diabetes, or chronic kidney disease, that limit is 1,500 mg. Eco-Atkins should keep you below both. A sample daily menu provided 1,345 mg.

Other key nutrients. The 2010 Dietary Guidelines call these “nutrients of concern” because many Americans get too little of one or more of them:

  • Fiber. Getting the recommended daily amount of 22 to 34 grams for adults helps you feel full and promotes good digestion. Veggies, fruits, and beans—all major sources—are encouraged on this diet, so you should easily meet the recommendation.
  • Potassium. A sufficient amount of this important nutrient, according to the 2010 Dietary Guidelines, counters salt’s ability to raise blood pressure, decreases bone loss, and reduces the risk of developing kidney stones. It’s not that easy to get the recommended daily 4,700 mg. from food. (Bananas are high in potassium, yet you’d have to eat 11 a day to get enough.) The majority of Americans take in far too little. How much potassium you get on Eco-Atkins is entirely up to you, but because you’re almost certainly eating more fruits and veggies than you were before, you’ll likely get more potassium than most.
  • Calcium. It’s essential not only to build and maintain bones but to make blood vessels and muscles function properly. Many Americans don’t get enough. Women and anyone older than 50 should try especially hard to meet the government’s recommendation of 1,000 to 1,300 mg. While difficult to meet the goal, you should succeed with plant-based beverages like soy milk, almond milk, or rice milk, which are healthful alternatives to cow's milk and packed with calcium.
  • Vitamin B-12. Adults should shoot for 2.4 micrograms of this nutrient, which is critical for proper cell metabolism. Fortified soy milk along with wheat gluten and soy products are good sources.
  • Vitamin D. Adults who get too little sunlight need to meet the government’s recommended 15 micrograms a day with food or a supplement to lower the risk of bone fractures. Foods that contain vitamin D are typically animal-derived, so it may be difficult for Eco-Atkins followers to meet the standard. A sample menu provided just 3 micrograms.

Supplement recommended? N/A

How easy is it to follow?

Depends on how long you can do without meat and “bad” carbs like white bread, potatoes, and baked goods. Diets that severely limit entire food groups for months and years tend to have lower success rates than less-restrictive diets do.

Convenience:

The Eco-Atkins Diet takes some work and creativity. It’s up to you to plan meals around plant protein rather than animal protein. Few resources are available to guide you, which can make compliance more difficult.

Recipes. A Google search yields hundreds of Eco-Atkins recipes, ranging from chickpea soup, to creamy vegetable and cashew curry, to walnut bean burgers (sans the bun).

Eating out. Doable, but options may be limited. Garden vegetable soup and steamed veggies make good appetizers. Entrée salads are your best bet, but don’t forget to hold the bacon bits, croutons, and cheese. For dessert, go with fresh fruit.

Alcohol. No guidelines are provided. However, beer and wine contain carbs, and all alcoholic beverages add calories. Since alcohol can also raise triglycerides, most experts say moderation is key; stick to two drinks a day for men and one for women.

Timesavers. None.

Extras. None. Eco-Atkins doesn’t have an online presence, and no guidebooks are available.

Fullness:

Nutrition experts emphasize the importance of satiety, the satisfied feeling that you’ve had enough. Hunger shouldn’t be a problem on Eco-Atkins. Beans and other legumes, veggies, and whole grains—all emphasized on the diet—are thought to take longer to digest, keeping you feeling fuller for longer. In the Archives of Internal Medicine study mentioned in the above weight loss and heart sections, participants were asked how satisfying their meals were. Eco-Atkins dieters rated their program nearly twice as high as those in the high-carb group. You’re also free to choose how many calories you want to eat.

Taste:

You’re preparing the food—if it doesn’t taste good, you know who to blame. Try reinventing your favorites: Go for black-bean instead of steak burritos, or if chicken stir-fry is your thing, use tofu instead of poultry. And consider replacing turkey meatballs or the meat in spaghetti sauce with white beans.

How much does it cost?

It’s moderately expensive. Fruits, vegetables, and soy products—which should be filling your cart if you’re doing it right—are generally more expensive than heavily processed foods like white bread, sugary cereals, and sweets.

Does the diet allow for restrictions and preferences?

Most people can customize Eco-Atkins to their needs—pick a preference for more information.

Yes. Eco Atkins is (typically) a vegetarian plan, and many followers forgo dairy, making it vegan.

People with celiac disease, who can’t tolerate gluten, should have no problem with the help of gluten-free protein like nuts, beans, and lentils.

It’s up to you to ensure your choices are low-sodium, but Eco-Atkins’ emphasis on fruits and veggies should make your job easier. It’ll also help that you’re forgoing meat, which is often a high-sodium culprit.

Yes, you can make sure your diet is kosher.

Yes, but it’s up to you to ensure your food conforms.

What is the role of exercise?

Eco-Atkins is only an eating pattern. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t exercise. Being physically active lowers your risk of heart disease and diabetes, helps keep weight off, and increases your energy level. Most experts suggest at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise—such as brisk walking—most or all days of the week.


Last updated by Angela Haupt | December 13, 2013

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