Skip Nav

What Can You Eat on the Atkins Diet?

Here's Exactly What You Can Eat on the Perpetually Popular Atkins Diet

The Atkins Diet has been around for a long time; Dr. Atkins published his first book promoting a low carbohydrate, high protein diet in 1972. Since then, thousands of people have used his formula to achieve weight loss. Kim Kardashian is one of the biggest celebrity names that swears by the Atkins approach, crediting it with her post-baby weight loss (over 60 pounds with her second baby).

There are two main approaches to Atkins: Atkins 20, which is more restrictive and produces faster weight loss, and Atkins 40, which allows more carbohydrate consumption and greater food variety from the beginning. The 20 and 40 refer to the total net carbohydrates (NC) allowed per day. Atkins 20 is recommended for people that have more than 40 pounds to lose, are diabetic or pre-diabetic, and/or have a waist measurement of over 35 inches for women, 40 for men. Atkins 40 is for people with less than 40 pounds to lose, those that want more food variety from the beginning, and/or are pregnant or breastfeeding.

Even if you aren't a Kardashian with a personal trainer and chef, could Atkins work for you? As with most "diets," it depends on your willingness to commit to the program, including the foods you are allowed to consume. Atkins 20 has four phases, so let's dive in and find out exactly what the system looks like.

Atkins 20

  • Phase 1: Proteins will be your main food source, including fish, fowl, meat, and eggs and can be eaten as much as you like. In fact, eggs account for most of the Atkins breakfast suggestions. Additional fat in the form of butter and oils are allowed three times a day (1 tablespoon each serving). Phase 1 permits artificial sweeteners which count towards daily NC. Cheese amounts are small: only 3 to 4 ounces per day (that's about one slice of American cheese or one one-inch cheese cube). Low NC "foundational vegetables" such as alfalfa sprouts, spinach, cucumber, and asparagus count towards daily net carbs.
  • Phase 2: The second Phase introduces nuts, seeds, legumes (aka beans and lentils), fresh fruits, and dairy products back into the equation. However, the net carb allotment only goes up by 5 NC per week — that's not much to play around with when Atkins encourages "foundation vegetable" consumption to comprise the majority of the net carbs in this stage. Prepackaged low-carbohydrate foods (such as Atkins bars or other low-carb products) are permitted as long as they are calculated for NC.
  • Phase 3: You can now consume starchy vegetables, such as carrots and potatoes, more fruits, and limited amounts of whole grains such as wheat and oat bran, quinoa, and oatmeal. Whole wheat bread and pasta can be on the menu, but will take up a large chunk of the net carb allowance.
  • Phase 4: The final stage includes the same foods as Phase 3, but is considered a maintenance phase that transitions to lifelong healthy eating habits. More foods with higher NC counts can be introduced as long as the net carbs stay the same. These are the stages to experiment with reintroducing higher carbohydrate foods in small amounts.

Atkins 40

There is substantially more freedom with Atkins 40 from day one, but the trade-off may be slower weight loss. The foods allowed in Phases 3 & 4 of Atkins 20 are available day one of Atkins 40. General Atkins 40 guidelines are to eat four to six servings of protein per day, two to four servings of fat per day, and the allotted 40 net carbs. Working with more foods and twice the NC allowance may be more doable for most people, including Kim Kardashian who favors this plan. Once you're within 10 pounds of your weight-loss goal, an additional 10 NC can be added in per week, a little over one extra NC per day.

What About Vegetarians?

Because they will not have access to the protein from meat, vegetarians skip Phase 1 of Atkins 20 and start with 30 grams of NC. Vegetarians can also introduce seeds and nuts before berries. Vegetarian protein under Atkins comes from eggs, cheese and soy products. Vegans also start in Phase 2, and are allotted 50 grams of net carbs protein from seeds, nuts, soy products, soy and rice cheeses, seitan, legumes, and high protein grains like quinoa.

How About Alcohol?

Atkins 40 recommends abstaining for the first two weeks of the plan, to allow the body to adapt to its new fat burning metabolism. The Atkins website notes that the body will burn alcohol before fat, so drinking a cocktail or two may slow down weight loss. After the two weeks, moderate alcohol may be introduced, keeping in mind that spirits and wine have fewer net carbs than beer (e.g. 1 oz. vodka has zero NC, 3.5 oz. red wine has 2.6 NC, and light beer has 5.6 NC). Because not all consumers metabolize the same, if alcohol is added and weight loss suddenly stops, the Atkins website recommends taking it back out again.


The Atkins food chart helps calculate the best way to spend the NC daily allotment. Meal plans are also provided, to help you get past the basic math challenges of NC calculations. Keep in mind, adding 3 slices of crumbled bacon to a salad represents zero NC. Splurging on some balsamic vinegar costs 2.7 NC per 2 tablespoons. I'm not that great at math, but who doesn't like a diet where the obvious choice is more bacon?

Latest Fitness