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The Mediterranean Diet vs. Atkins — Which Is Healthier, and Why?

Atkins and the Mediterranean diet are two weight loss regimens that have almost nothing in common — so which is better, and why?


While social media influencers and major corporations may say otherwise, there’s no “best” diet out there. So when comparing two very different weight loss regimens, such as Atkins and the Mediterranean diet, choosing one over the other isn’t easy. Atkin is a low-carb weight loss diet, whereas the Mediterranean diet is more of a healthy “whole foods” lifestyle.

Lena Bakovic, MS, RDN, CNSC, tells Woman’s World that she would generally gravitate to prescribing the Mediterranean diet, because of its benefits beyond weight loss. In contrast, she calls the Atkins more of a “fad” diet.

A person picking up a bell pepper, among other fruits and vegetables
Fruits and vegetables are a key aspect of the Mediterranean diet.Chris Clinton/Getty Images

“There is much more scientific evidence backing the use of the Mediterranean diet in not only aiding weight loss, but also chronic disease prevention and management as well as inflammation,” she explains. “This is contrary to the Atkins diet, which in the scientific community is more considered to be a ‘fad’ type of diet. which — for most — is not sustainable for the long-term.”

A Side-By-Side Look at Both Diets

Permitted FoodsVegetables; fruits; meat; fish; dairy; low-starch vegetables (after phase one); and carbohydrates during phases three and four.Fruits and vegetables; whole grains; legumes, nuts and seeds; olive oil; lean proteins such as tofu and fish and small amounts of red wine.
Restricted FoodsCarbohydrates during phases one and two; refined sugars; processed foodProcessed carbohydrates, red meats, oils and sugars; refined grains and sugars; most dairy products including butter and large amounts of alcohol.
Caloric Restrictions1,500 to 1,800 for women; and 1,800 to 2,200 for men.None
Short-Term EffectivenessIt’s effective for short-term weight loss, though it may be mostly water weight.Lowers weight by up to two pounds per week, and can lower BMI within a few weeks.
Long-Term EffectivenessPlateaus from initial weight loss, though it can help lose additional weight.Though body will adjust and weight loss will plateau, the diet may contribute to a longer and healthier life. It may also lower the risk of heart disease, diabetes and cognitive decline.
Short-Term Side EffectsSimilar to that of the “keto flu” dieters may experience constipation, headaches, weakness, fatigue and moodiness.There are few negative side effects; though many report boosted energy and mood.
Long-Term RisksHigh fat diet may contribute to heart disease, among other conditions such as high blood pressure and cancer.Possible weight gain with influx of healthy fats; possible vitamin deficiencies in B12 and iron.
Cheat DaysPermitted one “cheat night” per week.Avoid red meat, processed carbohydrates and refined sugars.
Annual Cost$2,444 per year, according to Finder.On average, one person will pay $4,056 per year on groceries on the Mediterranean diet.

The Mediterranenan Diet Is a Lifestyle More Than a Diet

Woman smelling a fruit in the grocery store
Eating fresh, working out and cooking at home are all integral parts of the Mediterranean lifestyle.Fuse/Getty Images

Dietitians and healthy foodies alike tend to flock to the Mediterranean diet for its benefits and lack of restrictions. Based on the dietary habits of Southern Italy, Greece and Spain, it allows for lean meats, fruits, vegetables, whole grains and olive oil. 

It predominantly restricts processed foods, red meat and dairy, without imploring caloric restrictions. Those adhering to the diet are advised to avoid large amounts of alcohol outside of small amounts of red wine. They are also encouraged to exercise, and eat communal family-style meals.

Related: Flexitarian and Mediterranean: Plant-Forward Diets With Key Differences

Weight Loss Is Just One Health Benefit Associated With the Mediterranean Diet

Man weightlifting at a gym
There are very few disadvantages to adhering to the diet.Hirurg/Getty Images

Although people adhering to the Mediterranean diet can lose up to two pounds per week (depending on caloric restrictions), the diet is associated with many other health benefits. A Harvard Health blog post highlights the Mediterranean diet’s ability to reduce the risk of heart disease, and conditions such as metabolic syndrome, types of cancer and diabetes. It’s also shown to alleviate depression thanks to healthy fat and vitamin intake, boost cognitive function, and increase the lifespan of older folks.

There Are Very Few Disadvantages of the Mediterranean Diet

Depending on how one approaches the diet, some may experience weight gain from consuming an influx of healthy fats (from nuts and olive oil).

Another possible “con” is the possibility of facing deficiencies, including vitamin D and calcium, as well as iron. A vitamin D and calcium deficiency can spur from eliminating dairy, though doing so can impact bone health. That said, taking extra precautions, especially for those prone to osteoporosis, is key. Fortunately, Vitamin D sources like fatty fish, cheese and low-fat milk and yogurt are all allowed on the Mediterranean diet.

Iron deficiencies are also a possibility, from cutting out red meat, especially if you don’t like fish. Those adhering to the diet should make a point to include iron-heavy vegetables such as kale and spinach in their meals.

Atkins Is a Low-Carb Diet With Four Phases

A spread of healthy food including chicken and rice
The first two phases of Atkins are low-carb, and the third and fourth reintroduce them.GMVozd/Getty Images

The Atkins Diet is a low-carbohydrate diet that’s divided into four “phases.” The first cuts out almost all carbs (to less than 20 grams daily), and includes mostly proteins and leafy greens. As the phases progress, more carbs are re-introduced back into the diet. It all ends with a “maintenance phase” that will ideally keep the dieter on track.

Most People See the Most Dramatic Weight Loss in Phases One and Two

Because the first two phases include so few carbohydrates, weight loss primarily takes place during the first two phases. Phase one features predominantly high fat and high protein meats and green vegetables. Then phase two brings in nuts, low-carb vegetables and small amounts of fruit. While WebMD says initial weight loss depends on a variety of factors, it’s usually more drastic than in phases three and four.

People Can Stay on Certain Phases as Long as They’d Like

Woman eating salad
Although the first two phases of the diet are only a couple of weeks, dieters can linger in whatever phases they’d like.martinedoucet/Getty Images

Sometimes, people choose to stay in certain phases longer than the Atkins schedule. Two weeks is generally what’s recommended for phase one, and for phase two, people usually stay until they’ve lost 10 pounds. Dieters tend to stay in phase three, or pre-maintenance, until meeting their goal weight, and in phase four for life. Sometimes dieters prefer lingering in certain phases for longer periods of time, which makes the diet a little more flexible.

Atkins Is Designed to Encourage Good Life Habits

Atkins intends to establish life-long healthy habits. For example, beyond a food regimen, it recommends that dieters consume at least eight glasses of water, and exercise for 30 minutes daily, according to Mayo Clinic. The last phase also tries to keep people on track “for life.”

Short-Term, There Are Some Negative Side Effects

A man sits at a desk holding their head in pain
The low-carb flu can scare many off in the first phase of Atkins.urbazon/Getty Images

Similar to the “keto flu,” dieters adhering to Atkins may initially experience some negative symptoms in the beginning, known as the “low carb flu.” Some might experience headaches, constipation, moodiness, fatigue and indigestion, among other symptoms. That can make Atkins difficult to stick with at the beginning.

Long-Term, the Results of the Atkins Diet Are Mixed

The long-term results are mixed. According to US News, the initial stages may include positive impacts such as weight loss, lowered BMI and lowered insulin levels. But the long-term disadvantages are concerning. Eating mostly protein, fat and cholesterol (from an influx of meat) could lead to cardiovascular issues, kidney problems and even certain types of cancer. Calcium deficiencies can also trigger osteoporosis, and such restrictive diets can lead to disordered eating habits.

Restrictions Make Atkins Especially Hard — Though There Are “Cheat Days”

Two women eating ice cream outside their car
One cheat meal a week is allowed on the Atkins diet.praetorianphoto/Getty Images

The diet cuts out entire food groups such as carbohydrates, and such a restrictive diet can lead to disordered eating, yo-yo dieting and binges. But once a week, the diet does allow for a cheat meal. Whether that’s carbohydrates galore (hello, pasta) or something processed (we love a Pop-Tart) is entirely up to the dieter, but it isn’t recommended to have more than one weekly. In fact, a cheat meal a week on Atkins can “turbocharge” your diet — who knew?

Neither Diet Is Inexpensive

Blonde woman shops for groceries, and stops to read the packaging of an item
Shopping on a budget for both diets is possible, but it requires some planning.RapidEye/Getty Images

Even though there are ways to save on a diet (buying frozen or canned vegetables, shopping seasonal, and opting for cheaper proteins), it should come as no surprise that both the Mediterranean diet and Atkins are both more expensive than the average American diet. Carbohydrates and processed foods are inherently cheaper, so your grocery bill may be higher than usual while adhering to either regimen.

Atkins May Be a Fad, but Mediterranean Is Forever

By so heavily restricting carbohydrates, many nutrition professionals consider Atkins controversial, and a fad diet. However, the Mediterranean style of eating encourages healthy habits to last a lifetime. As always, though, we suggest speaking to a dietitian before trying either.

What happens to your body on the Mediterranean diet?

A number of things happen to your body on the Mediterranean diet. Without processed foods, large amounts of dairy and red meat, people often lose weight, according to Harvard Health. This leads to lower BMI and decreased fat storages, and long-term, it can fend off cardiovascular issues, cancer and more. It’s also said to boost cognition and mood.

How long should someone be on the Mediterranean diet?

According to the New York Times, people often experience results from the Mediterranean diet within just 10 days. One should speak to their doctor or dietitian before going on and sticking to the Mediterranean diet, but WebMD says it’s OK to stick with forever, as it’s more of a lifestyle than a diet.

Does Atkins help with diabetes?

Because Atkins helps with lowering insulin levels, it comes as no surprise that it’s commonly prescribed to those with diabetes. According to a study published to the National Library of Medicine, decreasing carbohydrate intake and increasing protein intake helps lower the amount of sugar in the blood. But you should always speak with your personal physician before changing your diet, especially with conditions such as diabetes.

Do people go into ketosis on Atkins?

While dieters can go into a state of ketosis on the Atkins diet,, only the first two phases strictly limit carbohydrate intake. So when entering phases three and four, the body will likely be thrown out of ketosis. But if you choose to stay in phases one or two for longer, the body will stay in ketosis longer.

What is the fat intake of the Mediterranean diet vs. the Atkins diet?

The National Institute of Health states that on the Mediterranean diet, saturated fat intake is very low (less than 8.0 percent) but regular fat intake is high (about 25 to 35 percent of calories), thanks to olive oil and nuts. The Atkins diet, however, is a high-fat diet, with about 60 percent of calories coming from fat, according to the National Library of Medicine.

This content is not a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis. Always consult your physician before pursuing any treatment plan.

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