Atkins Chief Nutritionist: Pioneering Low-Carb Diet’s Makeover

Forget everything you think you know about low-carb diets.

Turns out it’s OK to snack on fruit. Have a tortilla if you like.

More than 40 years after Dr. Robert Atkins riled the American Medical Association with his 1972 bestseller that advocated ditching grains for a diet based on protein and fat, his successor is shaking things up.

Atkins chief nutritionist Colette Heimowitz, who calls herself “the keeper of the diet” since the pioneering cardiologist’s 2003 death, has doubled carb intake on a new variation of the infamous bacon-and-eggs diet. Atkins 40, which refers to the new daily carbs target, calls for more veggies, less protein and allows dieters to experiment as they learn to “budget” their carbs.

Heimowitz believes federal dietary guidelines that emphasized less fat consumption have failed the American public, resulting in a decades-long sugar bender that’s led to obesity and carb intolerance, putting record numbers of Americans at risk for diabetes.

“People need to cut back,” she says.

Meanwhile, low-carb fans, ranging from Atkins purists to the Paleo crowd, must learn how to put some of the healthy carbs they’ve stripped out of their diets back in.

The American diet, Heimowitz now says, should be based on “overarching nutrition principles” that include low sugar, healthy fats, optimal (but not unlimited) protein and a modest level of healthy carbs.

No matter how you feel about low-carb diets, she says, “you have to think about carbs as part of the equation.”

Finding your carb-tolerance level

The new diet’s 40-carb limit is still much lower than what experts recommend for both the general public as well as people with diabetes. The National Institutes for Health says carbohydrates should make up 45 to 65 percent of daily calories, which translates to about 200 grams a day for a person who consumes 1,800 calories.

The American Diabetes Association, which in its 2008 guidelines recommended a daily intake of 130 carbs, no longer lists a target number, suggesting that it’s more important to make sure carb intake comes from quality whole foods such as vegetables, whole grains, fruits and dairy. The ADA instead provides a “starting point” of 45 to 60 grams of carbohydrates per meal, but emphasizes that can vary depending on how certain foods impact an individual’s blood sugar.

People with diabetes may be used to thinking of their carb-tolerance level in terms of their blood sugar, but Heimowitz believe everyone should figure out what level of carb intake helps them maintain a healthy weight. For the record, she says hers is 60 grams a day. If she wants to lose weight she cuts back to 40, which just happens to be the number in the revamped Atkins diet.

That’s twice as many carbs as the introductory protein-and-veggies phase of the original diet, which is still listed on the Atkins website as an option “for people who prefer those tight guardrails,” Heimowitz says.

Trouble is, most people never get past Phase I. And “the first phase of Atkins is not sustainable,” she says.

Most people who try Atkins yo-yo between Phase I and falling off the wagon into a sugar binge.  They never get to the later stages where they learn how to add healthy carbs back into their diet, which explains why most of them they have no idea what their carb-tolerance level is.

“There is no one size fits all,” Heimowitz says.

Younger men who are physically active, for instance, can tolerate well over 100 carbs a day without gaining, she says. As for Heimowitz, “I’m menopausal, I sit at a computer all day, I can’t run anymore  (thanks to too many miles on the New York City pavement),” so she now finds that she has to watch her intake more closely.

Proliferation of products makings counting carbs easier

You might think the public face of the original low-carb diet would be hesitant to be seen with  anything resembling a carbohydrate on her plate. But if you ask Heimowitz when she last ate  bread, she’s likely to respond, “Today. I had a low-carb Mission wrap with my salad.”

Carb counters today have more options than ever before, thanks to a confluence of diet trends creating a surge in the grain-free, high-protein market that analysts peg at up to $15 billion and growing. Atkins Nutritionals alone offers 68 products, from frozen meals to bars and candies, while supermarkets stock everything from Caveman Cookies to Carbquik Baking Mix.

Even when Heimowitz downshifts to 40 carbs for weight-loss purposes, she notes that she can still use her carbs however she likes, provided she gets her veggies in. She might order berries and cream for dessert, or snack on a cashew trail mix Atkins bar.

“I’m a sugar baby,” Heimowitz says unapologetically. “I like sweet.”

So what would Dr. Atkins say?

Heimowitz, who worked with Atkins at his Manhattan private practice before taking on a corporate role at Atkins Nutritionals, believes that Atkins 40 isn’t dramatically different from modifications the cardiologist made based on individual patients’ needs.

“You can do that in private practice,” she said. “But to the broader audience, that part of the message was too complicated to come across. People tended to get stuck in the sound bites, and all people ever talked about was Phase I.”

As “keeper of the diet,” Heimowitz considers herself personally responsible for its evolution.

“It’s my job to protect the integrity of the diet,” she says. Which doesn’t mean it can’t evolve, so long as it remains “scientifically viable, that it can be supported in science.”

The studies she looked at in developing Atkins 40 suggested that while a daily carb range of 20 to 40 grams is best for weight loss, some studies were showing that even at 100 carbs, “most people were still showing a better health profile.”

Like the ADA, Heimowitz says the key is aiming for the highest quality carbs possible. She designed Atkins 40 so that people not only have more options, but also get a better sense of which foods are most carbohydrate-dense.

“You can budget your carbs anyway you want,” Heimowitz says. Though when asked if that means you could have a doughnut, she suggested “a bite of a doughnut” would be a better fit.

“Again,” she said, “it’s all about budgeting.”

One thought on “Atkins Chief Nutritionist: Pioneering Low-Carb Diet’s Makeover

  • May 23, 2016 at 11:15 pm

    I’ve EASILY sustained doing 20 net carbs or less for seven month now. It is not sustainable, ONLY if your don’t re-learn how to cook low carb, and get substitutes for flour (almond, flax, chia, sunflower seeds, psyillium), potatoes (radishes and turnips), bread (flax bread) and such.

    You’ve heard of pizza with “cheese in the crust”, well my pizza crust is made primarily of 2 C Mozzarella cheese, 3/4 C almond meal, 1 T of psyillium powder, 3 T of cream cheese and 1 egg….. Now while there are “some” carbs in there, but they are so few and low glycemic and/or fiber in nature, that if it weren’t for the pizza sauce and the onions I could eat the whole 13″ pizza in one sitting and not go over 10 carbs.

    Most fruits are too high in sugars, and Dr Atkins would have fired this chick immediately upon hearing her new recommendations. You can use fruits like rhubarb & cranberries, but things like oranges and apples just have too much dammed sugar. Want “much needed” vitamins and minerals, eat broccoli, it has tons of that stuff. Instead of sugar, pour Alfredo Sauce on top of it, and you’ll devour it.

    I know that, for example, oranges have been touted by the people who grow them as having vitamin C. Well, if it wasn’t for the vitamin C in them (163% of RDA @ 184 grams @ 17.6 NC, 17 of which is SUGAR), they would be mostly sugar. Broccoli on the other hand has 220% of RDA at only 148 grams @ only 6.4 NC (only 2.5 of sugar). Broccoli also has more way Potassium, and other vitamins and minerals than an orange, or orange juice, will ever have; all without so much sugar. Also, the broccoli has so much fiber, the little bit of sugar that is in there, takes a long time to digest. i.e., it’s nearly impossible to spike your BG by eating even vast amounts of broccoli.

    As Atkins head nutritionist, she should be ashamed of their products. Keep away from any Atkins protein bars and the like, as they are loaded with maltitol (a known sugar spiker in the LCHF community, with the added benefit of diarrhea), and they have way too much protein (they’re even called protein bars for christs sake). Oh, and I found out the hard way about their “nutrition bars” maltitol sugar spike (gained 7 pounds that week instead of loosing weight), and the nearly explosive diarrhea it caused…. No thanks, I don’t want your over priced diarrhea bars.

    Ever heard of a “fat bomb”? That’s what true LCHF dieters eat for candy (other than bacon ;-). In fact, I’m waiting for my MTC oil to show up so I can try out a new fat fudge recipe I seen over at If the Atkins Nutrition corporation would actually embrace the HIGH FAT part of the diet, instead of trying to win over high protein dieters, they could make a keto fudge like the one I just eluded to; that I just might buy if I’m too busy to make it myself.

    As far as there being new “low carb options” in the grocery stores, well I sure as hell haven’t seen them. Other than the shiratake noodles I stumbled upon, and a “low carb” soft tortillas (which took me 45 minutes to find, and was highly suspect because the first ingredient was still wheat flour), the only things I buy anymore at the local grocery (Coburns) are butter, bacon, meat/poultry, unsweetened almond milk, and low carb vegetables. Most everything else is made of wheat and/or has added sugar (ALL the processed meats, except the low sodium “food club” bacon)

    I have to go online to get erythritol, as the local “health food” store charges double of what I can get it online for, and Splenda is nothing but a high glycemic starch (mulitdextrin) with a questionable artificial sweetener added to it. I get my almond meal/flour, flax seed, most cheeses, REAL cream, and such from a local Mennonite store, as they don’t price gouge on that stuff like the local grocery does (if they even have it). I actually have to make a 200+ mile trip (or ask friends who are near there) to pick up turnips and Parmesan cheese in bulk at a restaurant supply store in order to get a decent price (I’m not paying over a dollar an OUNCE for parm cheese, or $4~$5 a pound for turnips). The day I see five or ten pound bags of turnips selling for the same price as potatoes at the local grocery, I might then agree that there are finally low carb options widely available.

    I’m sure this comment won’t be posted, or even stay here long, as I see you’ve “cleaned” any and all past replies to some of the stupider things said on this web site.


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