The Atkins Diet calls for an extremely low-carb induction phase and then slowly increases your carb intake to help you find your carb tolerance level -- the number of carbs you can comfortably eat daily and maintain a healthy weight. Reducing your carb intake helps you become more efficient at burning fat so you lose weight. It also has the benefit of stabilizing your blood sugar so you have fewer cravings.
In an ideal world, your Atkins plan would consist of whole, unprocessed foods such as meats, poultry, fish, vegetables and, after several weeks, plain yogurt, winter squash, berries and nuts. Atkins does market a number of convenience foods to help you stick to your low-carb diet, even when whole foods aren't available. The Atkins bars can be helpful between meals, but eat them in moderation, especially in earlier stages of the diet, to stay within your carb budget.
About Atkins Bars on a Low-Carb Diet
Atkins bars come in a variety of types and flavors. Purchase trail, meal-replacement or snack bars -- all of which contain 2 to 7 grams of net carbs per item. The flavors range from harvest fruit and nut versions to chocolate-and-nougat options. You might choose a snack or trail bar to tide you over until the next meal, while a meal-replacement bar is just that -- a bar instead of a whole-food lunch or breakfast.
Net Carbs and Sugar Alcohols
Net carbs are counted on the Atkins plan. They're digestible carbs, meaning they affect your blood sugar and have an impact on your weight. Figure the net carbs by subtracting the grams of sugar alcohols and fiber from the total carb grams:
Net carbs = grams of carbohydrates - fiber grams - sugar alcohol grams.
Fiber, or indigestible plant matter, has a positive impact on digestion. Atkins bars have 3 to 6 grams of fiber per bar, depending on the type you choose. Sugar alcohols are compounds such as mannitol, sorbitol and isomalt that sweeten much like sugar, but they contain fewer calories and don't have as big of an effect on your blood sugar levels. Because they digest slowly and don't spike your insulin, they're acceptable in phases 2 through 4 of the Atkins plan.
Because they aren't completely absorbed, though, sugar alcohols can cause stomach upset. You might experience loose stools, gas and bloating from consuming them. The Atkins program claims most people can tolerate between 20 and 30 grams of sugar alcohols daily, but know that this varies from person to person. Also note that eating sugar alcohols on an empty stomach at breakfast may disrupt your digestion more than having them later in the day when your stomach isn't as empty.
Bars Work for Several Stages of the Atkins Plan
The Atkins diet plan consists of four stages, each one with progressively more carbs. In Phase 1, or induction, your carb intake is limited to just 20 grams of net carbs daily. You'll get these carbs from the trace amounts in cheese, eggs, watery vegetables, cream, lemon juice and condiments. The emphasis is on whole, unprocessed foods, but Atkins bars are highly processed. And, even the lowest bars have 2 net grams of carbs, which could put a pretty large dent in your small carb allowance.
In Phase 2, you start to add more carbs -- but just 5 grams of net carbs per week. According to the Atkins website, every single flavor of Atkins bars are acceptable in Phase 2, but they do count toward your total net carb intake.
You move to Phase 3 once you're within about 10 pounds of your goal weight. Continue to add carbs, up to 10 net grams per week. This gives you even more wiggle room for including bars without negatively affecting weight loss, but you can only afford one to two per week of any that contain 5 to 7 grams of net carbs.
When you've reached your goal weight, it's time to move to Phase 4. During this phase, you adjust your carb intake downward if you start to regain pounds. You have more freedom to use Atkins bars as snacks, but as with any carbs, if you eat too many, you may start to regain weight.
Count the Carbs in Atkins Bars
Atkins bars aren't free foods. They still have carbohydrates and don't offer the same nutrition as whole foods. If you find yourself using them as an occasional meal replacement or to satisfy what could be a disastrous sweets binge, then they could successfully aid your adherence to the low-carb plan.
But, if you rely on these as free treats or find yourself eating them more than once per day, the bars could hinder your weight-loss progress. If you're diabetic, especially with type 1, you might still experience a rise in blood sugar if you consume too much of any sorbitol-containing food, including the bars.