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The Eco-Atkins Diet

The Eco-Atkins diet as the name suggests is a spin-off from the original Atkins diet that incorporates vegetable protein sources rather than the traditional meat protein sources. Just like the Atkins diet, the Eco-Atkins diet is designed to be high-protein and high-fat but low-carb. However, the Eco-Atkins diet was devised specifically to counteract the proposed adverse effects of animal protein sources on ‘bad’ cholesterol (i.e. low density lipoprotein - aka LDL) by replacing them with vegetable proteins sources such as gluten and soy.

Eco-Atkins Diet Overview

The design and study of the Eco-Atkins diet came about largely on the back of the proven success of low-carbohydrate high-fat diets for improving obesity and associated markers of cardiovascular disease and blood sugar control11. The major issue however, with conventional low-carb high-fat diets is that they encourage a high consumption of dairy and animal protein. As such they are not appropriate for vegetarians or vegans.

Formal scientific support for the Eco-Atkins diet emerged in 2009 when a study was published by researchers from St Michael’s Hospital, Toronto, Canada showing it was more effective than a high-carb diet based on low-fat dairy and whole grain products for weight loss and reducing LDL concentrations1.

The most recent study supporting the Eco-Atkins diet was published in 2014 and showed that a 6-month low-carb high-fat,  vegan-based Eco-Atkins diet was more effective for lowering lipids than a high-carbohydrate, low-fat vegan diet2.

Eco-Atkins Diet: What Foods Can You Eat?

In the study cited above, the macronutrient composition of the vegan diet was 26% of calories from carbohydrate, 31% from vegetable proteins and 43% from fat. 26% of calories from carbohydrate is not as extreme as your typical very low carbohydrate diet (VLCD) which are usually less than 20%. However, it still does mean that traditional carbohydrate foods like rice, bread, pasta etc need to be significantly limited. The main foods that make up the carbohydrate intake of the Eco-Atkins diet need to come from low starch vegetables such as those listed in the table below.


Low Starch Vegetables




String Beans



Bok Choy






Brussel Sprouts





Snow Peas





While classified as low carbohydrate, the Eco-Atkins does not employ the more restrictive  low carbohydrate limits of ketogenic or low-carb high-fat diets. Subjects in the original Eco-Atkins diet were allowed to eat up to 130g of carbohydrate per day, which is much higher than the 30-50g normally recommended as part of a properly devised ketogenic or LCHF diet. So in this sense, the Eco-Atkins diet is not as restrictive as other low carb diets concerning total carbohydrate intake.

Eco-Atkins Diet: Vegetable Protein Sources

As far as vegetable protein is concerned, the main sources are gluten and soy, with other minor sources including nuts and cereals. Bread is obviously the main source of gluten protein, however, soy protein can come in many different forms such as burgers, deli slices, breakfast drinks, vegetarian bacon, tofu and soy milk.

Eco-Atkins Diet: Fat Sources

As one might guess, when it comes to fat on the Eco-Atkins diet, the major source is nuts and vegetable oils. Macadamia nuts contain the highest amount of fat and therefore are a great choice for bolstering fat intake as necessary. Avocado is the other stand out fruit that’s great for a bit of healthy fat. Many manufactured soy products also carry a reasonably amount of fat and thus form an important part of the Eco-Atkins diet. In the 6-month study highlighted above, dietary fat came predominantly from intake of nuts (43.6% of total fat), followed by vegetable oils (24.4%), then soy products (18.5%), avocado (7.1%), cereals (2.7%), fruits and vegetables (2.3%). So provided one likes nuts, they should not have an issue adhering to the Eco-Atkins diet.

How Effective is the Eco-Atkins Diet?

So how effective is the Eco-Atkins diet and what benefits can individuals expect from it over a more traditional high-carbohydrate, low-fat vegetarian/vegan diet? Well at the end of the 6-month study (mentioned above) led by scientists at the University of Toronto, the obese subjects eating the Eco-Atkins diet had lost 4 more pounds than those who followed the vegetarian high-carb, low-fat diet. The other major benefit experienced by the Eco-Atkins dieters was a decrease (13%) in their bad (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol relative to the control group.

Eco-Atkins Diet: What the Experts Say

The findings of the study are surprising in light of the fact that medical experts have historically claimed that a high intake of dietary fat causes high cholesterol and raises an individuals’ risk of heart disease. But this study is certainly not the first to question the widely held beliefs concerning the relationship between dietary fat intake and heart disease. Diets such as low carbohydrate high-fat (LCHF) or ketogenic are supported by a number of studies showing they are more effective for weight loss and type II diabetes than conventional low-fat, high carbohydrate diets3-7. Findings from these studies combined with other research on the mechanisms underlying development of diabetes and heart disease suggest that carbohydrate and/or sugar may be more important in determining one’s risk for obesity, heart disease and diabetes8-10.

Eco-Atkins Diet Caveats

While the results of the two studies employing the Eco-Atkins diet are encouraging, it’s important to be aware of the studies limitation. Firstly, there were relatively low numbers in both studies and a high dropout rate. Whats more, Dr David Jenkins is the lead author of both studies and is known to be a vegan himself, which naturally introduces a level of bias. It would be good to see the results of a similar study conducted by another independent group of researchers before more formal recommendations are made concerning the diet for vegans.


1. Jenkins DJA, et al. The effect of a plant-based low-carbohydrate (“Eco-Atkins”) diet on body weight and blood lipid concentrations in hyperlipidemic subjects. Arch Intern Med. 2009;169(11):1046-1054.
2. Jenkins DJA, et al. Effect of a 6-month vegan low-carbohydrate (‘Eco-Atkins’) diet on cardiovascular risk factors and body weight in hyperlipidaemic adults: a randomised controlled trial. BMJ Open. 2014;4:e003505.
3. Samaha FF, Iqbal N, Seshadri P, et al. A low-carbohydrate as compared with a low-fat diet in severe obesity. N Engl J Med 2003;348:2074–81.
4. Foster GD, Wyatt HR, Hill JO, et al. A randomized trial of a low-carbohydrate diet for obesity. N Engl J Med 2003;348:2082–90.
5. Stern L, Iqbal N, Seshadri P, et al. The effects of low-carbohydrate versus conventional weight loss diets in severely obese adults: one-year follow-up of a randomized trial. Ann Intern Med 2004;140:778–85.
6. Sacks FM, Bray GA, Carey VJ, et al. Comparison of weight-loss diets with different compositions of fat, protein, and carbohydrates. N Engl J Med 2009;360:859–73.
7. Foster GD, Wyatt HR, Hill JO, et al. Weight and metabolic outcomes after 2 years on a low-carbohydrate versus low-fat diet: a randomized trial. Ann Intern Med 2010;153:147–57.
8. Halton TL, Willett WC, Liu S, et al. Low-carbohydrate-diet score and the risk of coronary heart disease in women. N Engl J Med 2006;355:1991–2002.
9. Halton TL, Liu S, Manson JE, et al. Low-carbohydrate-diet score and risk of type 2 diabetes in women. Am J Clin Nutr 2008;87:339–46.
10. Hu T, Bazzano LA.The low-carbohydrate diet and cardiovascular risk factors: evidence from epidemiologic studies. Nutr Metab Cardiovasc Dis. 2014;24(4):337-343.
11. Schwingshackl L & Hoffmann G. Comparison of the long-term effects of high-fat v. low-fat diet consumption on cardiometabolic risk factors in subjects with abnormal glucose metabolism: a systematic review and meta-analysis. British Journal of Nutrition. 2014;111:2047–2058.


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