Atkins Executive Talks Low-Carb Lifestyle, Keto Benefits and Prevention Type 2 Diabetes | EUR Exclusive

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*We caught up with Colette Heimowitz, M.Sc. VP Nutrition Communication & Education at Atkins, to dish about how to achieve weight loss and maintain a healthier way of eating via a low-carb lifestyle.

Colette works directly with medical professionals, health influencers, and consumers to educate them about Atkins’ sustainable lifestyle. She also authored the book, “The Atkins 100 Eating Solution: Easy, Low-Carb Living for Everyday Wellness,” featuring a foreword by Atkins spokesperson and actor Rob Lowe. Per press release, “This book is the most accessible and flexible approach to the Atkins diet ever: a simplified lower carb and sugar approach to weight loss and healthy living.”

If you are looking for mouthwatering low-carb recipes, download the free Atkins Summer e-Cookbook here.

In the meantime, check out our conversation below with Colette about the benefits of an Atkin diet, tips for low-carb eating at work, the Keto approach, and why the American Diabetes Association recommends the low-carb lifestyle.

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Tell us the difference between low carb and the keto diet?

Colette Heimowitz: Well, low carb, according to the American Diabetes Association, the American Heart Association and the mainstream scientific community is anything less than 26% of calories in the form of carbohydrates, which equates to about a 100 or 130 grams of carbohydrates daily. The keto diet, which is similar to the Atkins 20, or the Atkins 40 diet is when it forces the body to go into a state of ketosis, which is simply fat burning. The body switches from burning sugar to burning fat and that’s why they call… and the byproducts are ketones, and that’s why they call it a ketogenic diet.

That has to be under 50 grams of carbohydrates a day. Now, there are different personalities of keto out there. You have the hardcore keto that says no more than 20 and nothing but vegetables. And then the Atkins 40, which is still going to keep you in ketosis, allows you 50 grams where you could have some berries and some Greek yogurt and a lot more vegetables.

And the fiber is really important. So I encourage people to do the Atkins 20 or the Atkins 40, or if you don’t have a lot of weight to lose and you’re just looking to improve blood sugar, which is what the doctor is trying to do when he tells you’re pre-diabetic, that means your blood sugar is outside of normal range on occasion. Then you could do the Atkins 100 or the low carb approach, which is 100 grams of carbs a day. And then you spread those carbs out during the day, 25 grams per meal, which brings you to 75 and then save 25 for snacks.

And it’s important to not skip meals and to eat frequently to start to regulate the blood sugar. Because what’s happening with pre-diabetics is that he probably did a hemoglobin A1c, which is a test that looks at your blood sugar over a three-month period.

And he found out that it was six or above. When it’s six or above, that’s an indication that the body’s having a harder time keeping that blood sugar within the normal range. And that means the insulin that you’re producing to get excess blood sugar out of the bloodstream is becoming resistant and it’s not doing such a good job. And then over time, the insulin becomes more and more resistant. And then you have chronically high blood sugar, and then you’re diabetic, which you want to avoid at all costs.

You just have to figure out which is the best program for you, whether we should do keto or whether we should do low carb. 

Healthy food for balanced diet background. Overhead view of a large group of healthy food used in paleo diet like beef, chicken meat, salmon, sardines, shrimps, root vegetables, greens, vegetables, fruits, extra virgin olive oil, nuts and seeds / Getty

Why is a low-carb diet ideal for weight loss? In the past, maybe 10, 15 years ago, you didn’t really hear much about low carb. It was just diet and exercise. When Atkins became a household name, we got focused on, “Oh, let’s stop eating all of this sugar. Let’s stop eating all of this bread.” Why is low carb, one of the best diets for weight loss?

Because the body and how we’re built and how we’re made up. We’re only built to circulate the equivalent of about two teaspoons of sugar at a time, which is four grams of sugar. Now if you were to eat bread or a bagel or a soda or pasta or potato chips, that converts to 9, 10, 12 teaspoons of sugar. Carbohydrates are the only macronutrients once they’re digested convert to blood sugar. And then that’s a stress on the body because if you’re constantly raising your blood sugar above that two teaspoon equivalency, then the more insulin the body has to make to get that excess blood sugar out of the bloodstream, what it uses for energy… First, it takes it to the cell for energy. What it doesn’t need for energy, if you’re not a runner and you burn off all of that sugar, it stores as fat. So when carbs are low enough… now we have two sources of fuel.

Either the blood sugar that I talked to you about, or we have, the body is equipped and built to have a backup fuel system, which is fat burning. Now, if you’re overweight, that’s what you want to do. You want to burn fat. So when carbs are low enough, the body will have that steady two teaspoons of sugar circulating at a time and never goes above that, so you’re never storing fat from carbohydrates because that’s where the disconnect with people have. They don’t connect carbohydrates turning into fat. They think fat makes you fat.

But the science over the last 20 years have taught us that it’s the carbohydrates converting to excess blood sugar that converts the stored fat on the body in the form of triglycerides. That’s how you could tell if you’re eating more carbohydrates than the body could handle. If you have high triglycerides, that’ll suppress your HDL. High triglycerides, low HDL, you’re headed for a stroke.

So the health benefits, not only for weight loss but for cardiovascular disease and for healthy blood sugar levels. And it’s the science that Dr. Atkins just saw it in his private practice 20 years ago. When I was in his practice with him, we saw the results in patient’s blood tests, so we just had anecdotal reports, but that’s when the science community came in to actually prove the dangers of low carb, right? Because everybody was supposed to be on a low-fat diet and low carb, it’s higher in fat, but then the science showed us, wow, blood sugar’s improved. Cholesterol is improved. Markers for heart disease is improving. Blood sugar is improving.

So it’s the science that’s caught up with it. And now they’re looking at mechanism of action and keto is really very promising for lots of things. It controls seizures. It’s best for brain health because the brain functions better with ketones than excess blood sugar. They’re finding out dementia has… early onset dementia has a link to high blood sugar. They call it diabetes of the brain. The science has really caught up with it. But the main, best by far outcome is controlling blood sugar. Once you control blood sugar, you control insulin and all of the deleterious effects of high insulin and high blood sugar does to the body.

What are your top three tips for people starting a low-carb diet?

First, you have to find one that you could live with. Because the worst thing you could do is do it for two weeks and say, “Oh this is too rigid. I really miss my fruit. I really want a slice of bread.” If you’re that kind of person, then you should do the low carb 100 grams of carb a day, net carbs a day, which is total carbs minus fiber. And then just the weight loss will be more gradual, but it’ll regulate your blood sugar. If you spread those carbs out during the day and you don’t eat them all at once, so it spikes the blood sugar, 25 grams of carbohydrate per meal, 25 grams saved for snacks. And then you have more variety. You’re eating proteins, healthy fats, lots of vegetables, some fruits, Greek yogurt, a few beans to put on your salad. There’s a lot more variety and it’s more sustainable.

If you are the type of person that needs tight guardrails, like some people like “I don’t want the choice of anything else, but vegetables because that’s how I get in trouble.” A bite of bread or a little fruit, I can’t stop. I need tight guardrails. Just tell me I could only protein, vegetables and healthy fats. I want those tight guardrails. Then you do the Atkins 40 or the Atkins 20 or what they call keto.

First and foremost, find what you can sustain for the long term and make a lifestyle out of it. Don’t do it short-term because then you’re messing the body up. It’s like yo-yo dieting. You’re losing weight, then you’re gaining weight because then the minute you start adding carbs back in, you start gaining the weight quickly. So the first rule find what works with for you, whether it’s Atkins 20 Atkins, 40, or Atkins 100 and then educate yourself, do a well-constructed low carb.

Because if you’re eating tons of steak, lots of bacon, processed meats and you’re not having enough vegetables and you’re not having enough fiber, you’re not doing yourself any favors. That’s just not a healthy way to go about it. It has to be a well-constructed low carb. So educate yourself, find out what are the acceptable food lists, the best way to prepare it. Don’t be afraid of fat, healthy fats like olive oil, avocados, olives. Those are the kind of fats you really should have. You could have sauces on your fish and chicken and meats. If you’re a vegetarian, you could do it as a vegetarian too. Find what works for you. And the only way you do that is to either work with a nutritionist or educate yourself. I mean, all the information is available online.

And then once you’re educated, prepare your kitchen, throw out everything in the kitchen like the crackers and the potato chips and the pretzels and the pastas and the very high carb foods. Don’t leave it in the house. You could feed your whole family this way. It’s just healthy for the whole family. They would maybe have a side dish of brown rice or a side dish of sweet potato. Then you would just have the protein and vegetables and healthy fats. So there’s a way that you could prepare for your whole family and make it a way that you live your life. Not a diet you go on and off of.

You know, one thing that annoys me so much is when I hear people brag that they don’t drink water, which is weird. How important is water intake during a low-carb diet?

Very important because when you’re making the switch from sugar metabolism to fat metabolism, the body is getting rid of its excess water retention, right, because you’re not producing as much insulin. It’s not retaining sodium in the body. You are losing some water weight in the beginning. The body levels off after a while, but in the beginning, you are losing water weight so you have to replenish the water. Plus, water is a nice detox. It just flushes out all the de-toxins in your system and all the toxins are stored in our fat cells. So when you’re releasing your fat cells and you’re burning fat for energy, you’re releasing those toxins into your system.

You want to flush the toxins out. You want to replenish the water that you are losing. And oh, by the way, I tell people, salt foods to taste. Don’t go crazy. Unless your doctor said, “No, you must be on a low salt diet because you’re sodium insensitive.” But most people on a keto diet, especially, they need a modem of salt. So this way it slows down the water loss and you won’t lose electrolytes.

What’s your take on diet sodas and artificial sweeteners while following a low-carb lifestyle? 

If somebody’s a purist and they want to get all artificial everything out of their system just for the principle of it, God bless you. I can’t do that. I can’t. It’s like I need that little bit of sweet. Otherwise, I feel deprived and then I wind up cheating. And so I treat myself to a diet soda once or twice a week. I love it. And especially in the summertime when it’s hot outside and I put a bunch of ice in it. I switched from Sweet and Low to Truvia just to make it less artificial and more natural, so I still get that sweet in my tea or my coffee and I use the no sugar creamers too. I do it. I’ve been doing that for 20 years. I see no reason why not to. Now there is those really sensitive individuals that that little sweet taste gets them to crave more sweets but that’s not me. I’m very satisfied with my diet soda once a week or twice a week and my little Truvia in my tea or coffee and I do just fine.

But it’s up to you. You can’t restrict it to the point where you’re feeling deprived. That’s the point. Because once you’re feeling deprived and then you’re craving things and then you want other things and you’re more likely to go the wrong direction. Don’t don’t feel deprived is all I’m telling you, because there’s nothing about any of the science that says it’s going to interfere with weight loss or it’s going to hurt your health. I mean there are those purists out there that like clean, clean, clean, no processed foods, only whole foods. God bless them. I mean, if they could do that and they could live with that, that’s fine. But the science doesn’t tell us that it’s bad for you.

Maybe about five years ago or so I went on the Atkins Diet, and lost a lot of weight. I didn’t exercise, not because I’m against exercising, but just because my work schedule at the time really didn’t allow for it. Now that I’m doing Atkins again, I’m incorporating exercise more often. But for inquiring minds on a similar journey, how necessary is exercise to be successful on a low-carb diet?

Well, from your own experience, you know it’s not necessary because you were able to lose weight, but it’s part of the health equation. It’s great for the cardiovascular system. You are more likely to maintain your lean body mass. You don’t want to lose muscle when you’re losing weight, you want to lose fat. In order to maintain that lean body mass, it’s a good idea to exercise at whatever level your fitness level is.

It doesn’t have to be in the gym and working out with sweats and lifting weights. It’s just resistance training, some cardiovascular. It only takes 20 to 30 minutes a day in order to maintain your lean body mass. It’s just part of a healthy equation. It’s not necessary. But it should be part of your lifestyle and your routine to maintain health. And it’s anti-aging. If you keep your body exercising, you’re keeping it lean. You’re keeping it where you’re doing stretching, exercising, you’re not stiffening up as you age. It’s a great anti-aging thing to make the part of your lifestyle.

So for people who are back at work after the pandemic, what are your tips for low-carb snacking on the job?

The Atkins Company was built on that need for people to snack. We’re a snacking company and there’s nothing wrong with it in low carbs, you know what I mean? As long as you’re counting your carbs and you’re keeping it at the level that you’re trying to achieve, there is nothing wrong. In fact, people with blood sugar metabolism disorders like pre-diabetics do better with snacking because, especially in a diabetic population, if they don’t snack, the liver makes sugar. So I think it’s important to regulate blood sugar, to have three meals and two snacks in between meals, because then you’re satisfying your appetite. You’re meeting your protein requirements. You’re not hungry, because hunger is the worst thing to be experiencing when you’re on a way to try to lose weight and a way you’re trying to live the rest of your life. You don’t want to get excessively hungry because that’s when you grab. And that’s when your willpower goes at the window. So I encourage in all of my meal plans on the website and in all of my books that I’ve published, there’s always three meals and two snacks.

Is it necessary to consult a physician before starting a low-carb diet?

You just want to know where you start off and you want to know where you’re going. So we usually tell people, just get a baseline lipid profile, WBC, just check your bloods, have your annual physical before you start so you can see, are you pre-diabetic? And then six months later or a year later, are you improving? Are you doing everything right? It’s just a great prevention technique. Anybody starting any diet should always consult with a doctor for a physical just to see where you’re starting out so you know where you’re going.

Last question, tell us about your book and why it’s a handy resource to turn to while following a low-carb diet. 

So we have a couple of cookbooks out there and they’re all great. I worked with chefs, that really, gourmet chefs. But the thing that I try to do in all of my books is to keep it easy, 20-minute meals because all of us are working and we have families. We don’t have three hours to have a gourmet meal prepared, so they’re easy and tasty. And, you know, in the book you’ll see, I showed you how to prepare meals and meal planning from the 20, 40 and the 100 so you could see the subtle differences between different levels of carbohydrate consumption.

When you reach your goal weight, you could do 100 and live the rest of your life like that and never gain the weight back. So pay attention to that. So you see how you introduce carbs back in to make it a lifestyle once you reach your weight loss goals.