The Sad Consequences of the Standard American Diet

This Quick Study outlines the health crises facing us today and shows the role of the standard American diet (SAD) in epidemic levels of obesity, hypertension, heart disease and diabetes. You’ll get a big-picture overview of how the Atkins Nutritional Approach addresses these issues and can help you prevent and/or control health problems by challenging traditional beliefs about carbs and fats.

Eating Ourselves To Death

Disclaimer The instructions and advice presented on this site are in no way intended as medical advice or as a substitute for medical counseling. The information should be used in conjunction with the guidance and care of your physician. Consult your physician before beginning this program as you would any weight- loss or weight-maintenance program. Your physician should be aware of all medical conditions that you may have, as well as any medication and supplements you are taking. Those of you on diuretics or diabetes medication should proceed only under a doctors supervision. As with any plan, the weight-loss phases of this nutritional plan should not be used by patients on dialysis or by pregnant or nursing women. As with any weight loss plan we recommend that anyone under the age of 18 follows the program under the guidance of their physician.

It’s sad but true: the United States is the unhealthiest industrialized nation in the world.

In this Quick Study, we’re going to explore why that is, how we got that way and which diseases we suffer from. Then we’ll get an overview of how the Atkins Nutritional Approach™ (ANA™) addresses these issues and how it can help prevent or control many health problems.

Obesity and Its Consequences

For starters, 64.5% of all Americans are either overweight or obese. Even without charts and statistics, all you have to do is look around to see that we are an overweight nation.

Try this: Find a good people-watching place, and just observe for 30 minutes. What percentage of those you see are overweight?

Obesity is defined as an excessively high amount of body fat (known as adipose tissue) in relation to lean body mass. The degree of obesity is influenced by both the distribution of fat throughout the body and the size of the adipose tissue deposits.

Being overweight is bad enough, but obesity seriously increases the risk of illness and death due to diabetes, stroke, coronary artery disease and kidney and gallbladder disorders. The more overweight an individual is, the higher the risk becomes. Obesity has also been implicated in increased incidence of certain types of cancer.

These are not just diseases-of-the-week. They are serious and life-threatening:

  • Diabetes: A disorder characterized by high fasting blood sugar levels and the inability of the body to transport glucose to cells, Type 2 diabetes is reaching epidemic proportions, and the link between diabetes and obesity is well documented. More than 80 percent of Type 2 diabetics are obese.
  • Stroke: The term includes a group of brain disorders that occur when the blood supply to any part of the brain is interrupted. Symptoms vary with the area of the brain affected and commonly include such problems as changes in vision or speech, decreased movement or sensation in a part of the body, or changes in the level of consciousness. If the blood flow is decreased for longer than a few seconds, brain cells in the area are destroyed, causing permanent damage to that area of the brain or even death.
  • Coronary artery disease: Includes the abnormal conditions that may clog the heart’s arteries with a buildup of plaque from cholesterol, calcium or mechanical trauma. The buildup produces various effects, especially reduced flow of oxygen and nutrients to the heart muscle. Coronary atherosclerosis, one type of coronary artery disease, is the leading cause of death in the Western world.
  • Kidney and gallbladder disorders: Probably the more serious of these are kidney diseases, which interfere with kidney function. Diabetes and high blood pressure contribute to kidney disease. Gall bladder diseases include gallstones, which can be extraordinarily painful.

Obesity, which contributes to this whole list of malfunctions, is showing steady growth among both men and women and all age groups.

Next Up

It’s not a pretty picture, and weight problems are actually overtaking smoking as the leading avoidable cause of death in America. How did we get into this mess?

* * *

The Road To Fat City

How did we get to this sad condition? It was easy. We eat too much, plus we eat too much of the wrong stuff.

As a nation, we’ve become hooked on fast foods. We tell ourselves we don’t have time to prepare and eat decent meals. When we do cook, it’s all too tempting to just open a box and nuke something in the microwave. Or we’re tired after work and just don’t feel like cooking. And hey–we deserve a break today, don’t we?

We are at the Pavlovian mercy of the food industry, which spends nearly $10 billion a year advertising unwholesome junk food and fast food. — Gary Taubes, “What if It’s All Been a Big Fat Lie?” in The New York Times Magazine

Actually, it’s our bodies that deserve a break, and not just today. Our bodies need a permanent break from what we’re really putting in them when we eat fast food, convenience food and junk food. These are the things we’re dumping into our bodies without a second thought:

  • high-carb foods, especially those low in nutrients
  • manufactured trans fats in the form of hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils
  • sugar in all its forms (including unrefined sugar, molasses, cane syrup and maple syrup)
  • refined flour

And it’s not just fast foods and junk foods, either. Processed foods–especially so-called convenience foods–can be just as hazardous as that supersized burger, fries and soft drink you can get just around the corner.

To make things even worse, the dietary information we’ve believed for so many years is–like so much conventional “wisdom”–just plain wrong. Let’s find out why.

* * *

Low Fat vs. Low Carb

For years we’ve been hearing that the best way to cut down body fat was to cut down on the fats we eat. On the face of it, that seems totally reasonable; but only if you don’t fully understand your body’s metabolism–how your body turns what you eat into fuel.

In recent years, research has indicated that we may have been doing it all wrong. To verify that, just ask yourself: If low-fat diets work, why are we so fat? Sure, you could blame some of it on people with weak willpower, or metabolic problems, or whatever. But when nearly two-thirds of the nation is overweight, those excuses just don’t hold water.

There is now an enormous body of research that proves that the conventional wisdom about the role fats play in the human diet is, quite simply, wrong, and in fact, it’s a high-carb, high-fat diet that results in weight problems and all the diseases that go along with being overweight. Culprits include the USDA Food Triangle, which guides school lunch programs across the country–it’s top-heavy on refined grains, including pasta and other starches while limiting foods containing fats. And many foods that are thought of as healthy–such as bran muffins, fruit juices and most brands of diet shakes and nutrition bars–are loaded with empty calories and high carbohydrate counts.

The low-fat high-carbohydrate diet, promulgated by the National Cholesterol Education Program, the National Institutes of Health, the American Heart Association…and the Department of Agriculture food pyramid…may well have played an unintended role in the current epidemics of obesity, lipid abnormalities, type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndromes. This diet can no longer be defended by appeal to the authority of prestigious medical organizations or by rejecting a growing medical literature that the much-malign
ed low-carbohydrate high-protein diet may have a salutary effect on the epidemics in question. — From the abstract of “The Diet-Health Hypothesis: A Critique” by Sylvan Lee Weinberg, MD, MACC in The Journal of the American College of Cardiologists, Vol, 33, pp. 731-33, 2004.

Next Up

Now that you have a better idea of how we got in this fix, how can the Atkins Nutritional Approach help get us out of it?

* * *

How Atkins Reverses the Cycle

For an in-depth understanding of the science behind the ANA, it’s a good idea to read pertinent chapters in Dr. Atkins’ New Diet Revolution or spend some time on the Science Behind Atkins section. But for now let’s address the overall mechanism of how the ANA reverses the carbohydrate-induced conditions brought on by the Standard American Diet.

Here’s how Dr. Atkins explains it in Chapter 1 of Dr. Atkins’ New Diet Revolution (revised edition, 2002):

Atkins works because it targets our stored body fat. The fat is not just there to make us overweight but is the body’s back-up system for fuel to generate energy. Take it out of the back-up role and convert your body to using fat as the primary fuel source, and the result is an extremely efficient weight loss and weight maintenance program. This metabolic switch occurs when only an insignificant amount of carbohydrates is available. And it’s an easy switch to control, because very little glycogen (made from carbohydrate) is stored in our bodies: When you eat fewer carbs, you almost immediately trip the switch.

Low-fat diets can work, but the problem is that people often feel too deprived on them, and quit because of hunger and food cravings. The ANA abandons the concept of the low-fat diet and moves toward addressing the root of the problem–which is too many of the wrong kind of carbs in the diet. Rather than a short-term weight loss solution, the ANA is, as we’ve already discussed, a life-long program for health that is based on the four Atkins Nutritional Principles. In light of what we’ve learned in this lesson, let’s revisit the four principles and take a closer look at how they work.

Weight Loss

Both carbohydrate and fat provide fuel for the body’s energy needs. Carbohydrate is the first fuel to be metabolized. However, when the intake of digestible carbohydrate is sufficiently restricted (without caloric restriction), the body converts from the metabolic pathway of burning carbohydrate to primarily burning fat as its main energy source. This results in weight loss.

Ketosis is a shortening of the term lipolysis/ketosis, and it’s the process you’ll be jump-starting during Induction. Lipolysis simply means that you’re burning your fat stores and using them as the source of fuel they were meant to be. When you restrict the amount of carbohydrates you eat, your body turns to fat as its alternative source of energy. In effect, lipolysis/ketosis replaces the alternative of burning glucose for energy. Both are perfectly normal processes. Some people confuse ketosis, which is a perfectly normal metabolic process, with ketoacidosis–a life-threatening condition that only affects extremely insulin-deficient people with out-of-control blood sugar levels.

Weight Maintenance

Each person has a tightly regulated carbohydrate threshold below which fat burning and weight loss occurs. However, if the person’s carbohydrate intake exceeds this threshold, carbohydrate burning predominates–this allows fat to accumulate and results in weight gain. So each individual has a level of carbohydrate intake at which weight is maintained.

Good Health and Well-Being

By following a controlled-carbohydrate nutritional approach, people who choose to eat nutrient-dense foods (including adequate fiber and healthy fats) are more likely to meet their nutritional needs and promote good health than they would by following a calorie-restricted, fat-deficient diet. Exercise is also essential for controlling weight, enhancing energy and maintaining a sense of well-being.

Disease Prevention

By following an individualized controlled carbohydrate nutritional approach that lowers carbohydrate intake, resulting in normalizing blood sugar and insulin levels, people at high risk for, or diagnosed with, certain chronic illnesses, including cardiovascular disease, diabetes and hypertension, can see improvement in these conditions.


We’ve studied the consequences and causes of obesity, and taken a look at how the myth of low-fat is not making us any thinner or any healthier. After reading this Quick Study you should have a better picture of the health crises facing us today and a sense of how the standard American diet (SAD) is contributing to epidemic levels of obesity, hypertension, heart disease and diabetes. An ample and growing body of scientific research backs up the ANA’s effectiveness in preventing and controlling these health problems. By controlling the carbohydrates they eat and reducing the insulin load on their bodies, people following the ANA can reverse the cycle and achieve lifetime health and well-being.

Try Keto – The Atkins® Way

Atkins keto plans are more flexible and more personalized to provide a long-term plan for reaching your goals. Our free tools can help you even further.

Get Started

Learn More About Low Carb Articles & Research

Easy Meals to Make Ahead and Freeze

In our busy lives, planning and preparing three meals a day can be quite stressful. ESPECIALLY if you’re practicing social distancing, have kids home from school and have to think about multiple meal options throughout the day for picky eaters. Well, don’t stress! We’ve prepared a list of make-ahead freezer meals you can prep in

Read More »

List of Foods You Can Eat on Keto

Atkins is a type of ketogenic diet—a nutrition plan that’s high in fats, moderate in protein, and low in carbs. The goal of a low carb diet is to help you lose weight more efficiently by reaching ketosis, which is a metabolic state in which your body burns fat instead of carbohydrates for fuel. Consuming

Read More »

A Week of the Keto Diet: 7-Day Keto Meal Plan

The goal of a ketogenic diet—a nutrition plan high in fats and low in carbs—is to help you lose weight more efficiently by achieving ketosis. Ketosis is when your metabolism starts to burn fat for fuel instead of carbs and sugar. Atkins is a ketogenic diet, but unlike the standard keto diet, Atkins is less

Read More »