Are Atkins Low-Carb Bars Healthy? A Critical Look

Woman Eating a Protein BarI’ve gotten several e-mails asking me about the low-carb bars made by the Atkins company.

These include Atkins Advantage Bars and Atkins Endulge Bars.

These products are marketed as low-carb friendly meal replacements.

Before I get into this post, I’d like to point out that the late Dr. Atkins really had nothing to do with this stuff.

He died in the year 2003 and the company that markets these products is now owned by some giant corporation.

Low-Carb Diets Are Awesome

I’m a big believer in low-carb diets. I honestly believe that they are a potential cure for some of the world’s biggest health problems.

In fact, the research agrees with me. Over 20 randomized controlled trials prove that low-carb diets are an excellent option to treat obesity and metabolic problems like diabetes (1, 2, 3).

They are certainly a much better option than the low-fat diet that is still recommended by the mainstream nutrition organizations, which is notoriously ineffective (4, 5).

However, I don’t think that the “low-carb” aspect is the only reason these diets work so well.

One of the key reasons these diets are so effective, is that they encourage people to eat real, unprocessed foods instead of the processed foods they were eating before.

Unfortunately, the Atkins bars are not “real” foods. They are highly processed products made in factories.

Even though these bars are technically “low-carb” – I don’t think you should be consuming them. Let me explain why…

Atkins Bars – What’s in Them?

You can learn a lot about a food product by looking at the ingredients list.

The best foods are those that don’t even need an ingredients list. That means that they are unprocessed, whole foods.

Take a look at the ingredients list for an Atkins Advantage bar:

Atkins Advantage, Ingredients List

Does that look like food to you?

It is obvious that there is very little actual food in there. This product is made solely from highly refined ingredients and artificial chemicals.

A few important things can be learned from this ingredients list:

  • Artificial flavor. This is listed twice and implies that there are many additional artificial chemicals in there.
  • Soy. There are several soy-derived products in there, which may cause a number of problems.
  • Vitamins and minerals. Be aware that the “nutrients” in there are NOT present naturally in the bars. They are synthetic, factory-made nutrients that are added to them.
  • Sugar alcohols. Atkins bars are sweetened with maltitol, a sugar alcohol that has minor effects on blood sugar and can cause digestive issues (6, 7).
  • Artificial sweeteners. Although controversial, there is some evidence that artificial sweetener use can contribute to weight gain and other problems (8).

Really… these bars aren’t food. They are highly processed products with a massive range of artificial chemicals, some of which are potentially harmful.

Are “Net Carbs” For Real?

Atkins Bar

Processed low-carb products often have labels saying that they contain a certain amount of “net carbs.”

These products usually contain a significant amount of carbohydrate, but a large part of these carbs are indigestible.

This includes fiber and certain sugar alcohols.

However… it’s important to keep in mind that food manufacturers often deceive people with their labeling.

The “net carb” claim is NOT regulated by the FDA or any regulatory agency and cannot be trusted.

There are many cases of so-called “low carb” products being able to raise blood sugar just as much as their regular counterparts.

No actual study has ever been done on the health effects of the Atkins bars, but I did look at several chat forums and many people report having digestive issues and stalled weight loss after consuming them.

Low-Carb Junk Food is Still Junk Food

These bars might be fine as an occasional treat, or something to keep in your glove compartment in case you’re out on the road and can’t find a healthy low-carb meal anywhere.

You could probably eat them every now and then without “breaking” your low-carb diet and knocking yourself out of ketosis.

However, it would be much better to spend your calorie budget on real, unprocessed foods… foods that aren’t made in factories and actually contain natural ingredients, like meat and veggies.

At the end of the day, low-carb junk food is still junk food. Period.

38 Comments

  1. Hi Kris.

    I agree 100%, these bars are not food, they are absolute rubbish. I would not touch one with a stick.

    Keep up your great work.

    Kind regards.

  2. It astounds me what these companies can get away with, it really does. If they could sell us dirt and manure burgers, they would in a heartbeat. And what’s with the push to get us to eat insects?

  3. I wouldn’t touch them with Eddies stick!!

    • I wouldn’t touch them with 10 one foot poles! They taste terrible and leave you feeling hungry! My rule is, if it comes in a box or a bag I don’t eat it.

  4. I have found that they are great for when I travel. It is difficult to find low-carb food when on the run at an airport. Other that this particular example, I see no need for them. Eat real food. In the past I did not have the time to find/fix real food. Stopped watching TV and now I have more time than I know what to do with. Priorities!

    • I now practice fasting (water only) when traveling to avoid junk food. It is part of my intermittent fasting used with a low carb, real food diet. Being able to skip meals for a day is a useful life skill anyway.

  5. 23g of 60g makes 38% of carbs. I’d call it high-carb, not low!

  6. It’s hard to believe that anyone would need to ask if a bar with an ingredient label like that is healthy! I wrote a similar critique on Zone Bars. http://blogs.naturalnews.com/put-down-that-energy-bar-how-its-worse-than-a-candy-bar/

    Why do we want to believe these bars are healthy? I think it’s 3 things.

    1.They are just so darn convenient.
    2.People want to believe they are like a guilt-free candy bar.
    3.They are addictive.

    I do believe they can be addictive. I once saw a lady in Target in tears because they were out of her favorite flavor. She expressed embarrassment and said she was so addicted to them she hid them all over the house so her husband wouldn’t find out!

  7. I wonder what Dr Atkins would have said to his name being associated with them?

  8. I’m wondering what percentages of (daily) carbs/protein/fats you would suggest on a low carb diet? How about sugar grams?

  9. Gloria Ageeb says:

    Thanks for your well documented article, I agree 100%. We need to pay more attention to items that say they are healthy.

  10. Mike Donelly says:

    Of course anything processed must be avoided. The question is really, is low carb itself heathy? I ate low carb for 8 weeks then I went for a blood test to see the effects and found my urea levels were out of range indicating stress on the kidneys. My ferritin level had also spiked indicating that I was storing unhealthy amounts of iron. I spoke to my trainer who told me the high urea level is common, although not always the case among Paleo eaters.

    Whilst a bit of ketosis is normal and helpful for weight loss, it’s probably not a good idea in the long run. What is the point of avoiding diabetes and ending up with kidney damage?

    Real foods is worthy cause but low carb should not be proposed as a lifestyle.

    • I don’t know what caused your issues, but there is no evidence that low-carb contributes to any health problem. It has been extensively studied, with an outstanding safety profile.

      However, I don’t think they are necessary (not “bad”, just not necessary) for people who don’t have overweight/obesity or metabolic problems like diabetes, or some other health problem known to be improved on a low-carb diet.

    • Generally speaking, high BUN (blood urea nitrogen) levels are a result of a high-protein diet, which isn’t generally what is recommended for those eating low-carb.

      Low-carb, High-Fat and MODERATE protein is what will give the best results. High protein (above/beyond that which is utilized by the body) will almost always result in the issues you experienced, especially in anyone with any sort of renal issues.

      The evidence is clear that LCHF (low-carb/high-fat with moderate protein) does not cause any renal issues in those with healthy kidney function. Those who do NOT have healthy kidney function may wish to keep protein intake further reduced.

    • Joey Marie says:

      Oh yes, this way of eating has been studied since the 70′s, there is NO evidence at all it causes your type of problems. I have been eating this way for 13 years and am healthy as a horse and happy with my low carb life. Never feel deprived.

      I have what I call a “fat day,” every other weekend and I eat anything and everything I want for 1 day then the next day I go back to normal. It’s nice to eat pizza or cake, cookies or all of them LOL. Never gained more than 5 pounds back in 13 years.

  11. Mark Bousquet says:

    I used to eat the Atkins products all the time, especially the Dark Chocolate Royale shake in the morning. I never got anywhere consuming these products. My weight loss took off after I ditched them.

    Thank you for this article.

  12. Mike Donelly says:

    >> Generally speaking, high BUN (blood urea nitrogen) levels are a result of a high-protein diet, which isn’t generally what is recommended for those eating low-carb.

    Thanks for that. I know this but I found myself struggling to find things to eat without putting meat in every meal. Once you exclude all grains including rice and corn, all legumes including beans, peas and chickpeas, nightshade vegetables which include potatoes, tomatoes and eggplant, all dairy which includes cheese, all that is left is courgettes, sweet potatoes and pumpkin, coconut oil and meat and nuts which are supposed to be eaten in very small amounts. Oh, and fruit which you should also not over-consume because the body can only digest minimal fructose.

    And if you try to avoid excessive meat consumption you would either have to artificially add lard or other animal fat to vegetable meals (anyone believe cavemen really did this?) or eat coconut oil at every sitting.

  13. Hi there, great piece and great website in general. I stumbled across it as I was looking for info on low-carb diets as re-committing myself to one. I know other people have done this elsewhere on this site, but just to add to this piece that I’m a type 1 diabetic and the one time I ate an Atkins chocolate bar, the carbs pushed my blood sugar up immediately so the net carbs claim is utter nonsense.

    • If you are very low, you take a glucose tablet, right? But 1 tablet is only 4g, so if you think that 3g bar will not push your BG up at all, then of course, you will be surprised. But numbers are still the same, the difference can be only in GI (and maltitol has a higher GI compared to other sugar alcohols).

      Diabetic people have to read the labels and understand what is written there, there is no other choice. For someone who likes sweet desserts after a meal or a small sweet snack and can’t make their owns, it’s a good choice, better than normal sweet stuff.

  14. Doug Williams says:

    Just to be clear folks, Bob Atkins sold these bars when he was alive, and made an incredible amount of money off of them. The Atkins diet enjoyed a huge boom in the late 90′s up until his death. (He slipped on ice and suffered a head injury, it was not related to his diet.) I’ve been in the health food industry since ’97, and Atkins was a big part of the development of this crap.

  15. Frank Talbott says:

    First off, everyone here talks negative about the bars. I started my diet at 387 pounds, on 27 Aug 2013. As of today I weigh 324, that’s 63 pounds in just over 10 weeks. I eat the bars as a treat and a light snack, sort of an in between meal to keep my 6 meals a day going, that’s how you keep your metabolism moving.

    The Atkins diet counts Net Carbs only, not all carbs. All the Atkins bars only have between 1-3 Net Carbs, as the Atkins diet structures to eat no more than 20 Net Carbs a day, I stay under 10 nearly all coming from the Atkins bars. I eat 3 a day, in between meals or right after a meal as a dessert if you will.

    The nutritional value I’m not concerned about. I’m human and any doctor will tell you that human nature needs treats. I have been eating 3 bars a day since the inception of the diet on Aug 27, 2013. I have averaged 4-6 pounds per week and still losing. I have 80 lbs to go, since I’m 6’4, a 250 lb is my goal, a healthy weight for a guy my size. Every one diet affects each individuals differently, if the bars don’t work for you, don’t use them, but if they satisfy you and work, keep on eating them.

    The no. 1 reason people quit their diets is due to hunger and cheating with little results, Atkins bars make me feel like I had something sweet and keeps me off processed sugar sweets. Also I am a Type 1 Diabetic, I used to take 20 unit shots of insulin 3 times daily, now I don’t take but 5 units once a week, and blood sugar is 123 or less every day. So it works like a miracle for me, and the bars have no more than 1-3 grams of sugar depending on bars.

    As I said, everyone’s posts were negative but I have had great results and much success from using them. And I get it’s not “REAL” Food, but I could care less because the bars make me feel as if I’m eating normal snacks tricking my mind that I’m eating food I enjoy, instead of eating a card board protein bar. I stick to 3 meals of any meat, but usually eggs, chicken, fish, and lean pork. Then the 3 Atkins bars, still being able to consume less than 2000 calories a day.

    And because of the bars I have 0 – ZERO cravings to eat more. My doctor’s only concern for me is that I’m not getting enough sugar . But heck, I’ll take my chances, because as I said 4-6 lbs a week EVERY WEEK. I may plateau eventually and have to change but for now all of the Atkins products are helping me succeed. And FYI, due to my size and fear of injury, I have not worked out AT ALL – not one time, I said when I lose 70 lbs I WILL start working out, so that’s in a week or two.

    In conclusion to my book I am writing to you fellow bloggers is this, do what works for you, not what’s popular or text book dieting. If it works and your doctor says that whatever you’re doing is working, and says it’s safe… so be it, just like “NIKE” – just do it… as you see, it can and will work if you commit to your diet.

    I love the bars, and will lose even more weight as I continue to use them. My doctor says that the 4-6 lbs a week is perfect, and due to the losing of weight so steady and slow, the lifestyle change weight loss according to my doctor it should stay off, not start blowing back up again. I recommend those Atkins bars to everyone struggling to lose BIG WEIGHT. I had an original goal of 140 lbs, 60 down already and 80 more to go, so it should only take me another 5 months.

    I have studied ALL there is to know about this diet, I do not have a nutrition degree but am almost finished with my schooling to become one, and everything I learned so far, is on point with the Atkins diet. If you have questions concerning this diet please E-mail me, I am extremely knowledgeable and know what I’m talking about, so if you’re obese like I was and still am, I recommend this diet and most importantly it works.

    60 lbs in 10 weeks speaks for itself, I truly ask for comments as I am so interested in your dissecting my weight loss testimonial. Sorry I’m so long winded… happy dieting and pray for your huge success.

    • Frank, thanks for your November post about Atkins products. I’m in my 3rd week and have lost about 14 pounds. Right now I’m hovering around 350, and I’m just shy of 5’5″. So, as you can see I have a long way to go.

      I really want to view this as a lifestyle change, and I do feel persuaded that eating low carb should be how I live the rest of my life. By the way, I’m 60 and have struggled with obesity since I was 12. I’ve lost around 100 pounds at least 3 times in my life, most recently about 10 years ago on Optifast for about 4 months (all liquids).

      The latter was easy for me to do, but obviously I couldn’t do it for life. I definitely have always had a sweet tooth, so the Atkins products (especially the peanut butter cups), have really been helping me. Like you mentioned, I have really no cravings; I feel very satisfied.

      Psychologically I’m a little concerned about “sweets” still having some control over me, and as I want to be “healthy” I’m a little concerned about these not being “natural” products. But, on the other hand, over the course of my life I’ve eaten so much junk that I would have to believe 2 – 3 of these products per day can’t compare to my previous consumption of garbage.

      With all the negative posts on the subject, I was encouraged by yours, though I hope I’m not deceiving myself in any way. I hope you are still doing well and getting the results you anticipated.

      • Joey Marie says:

        You two are so right. You do what works for you! I have what I call a “fat day,” every other weekend and for 1 day I eat anything and everything I want for 12 hours, well I don’t eat for the whole 12 hours but anyway, I tell people on the low carb forums and they practically freak out… Noooo you cant do that… Ketosis, ketosis, ketosis, LOL.

        It works for me and I don’t gain any weight back, it’s been 13 years now so I think I have proven that for me this works. I dont work out at all either. I have Lupus so my muscles will not let me, they hurt too bad to do even the smallest exercise and I still maintain my perfect weight so do what feels right to you.

        AND I also eat the bars. I eat a breakfast meal replacement bar and one for lunch, then I have the usual chicken, fish, steak… etc. I’ve never gone above the 20 induction carbs, I don’t need any more than that. The bars are great for some people

    • Thanks for the hope as I need to lose over a 100 lbs and success stories such as yours makes me feel that I can curb my sweet cravings (my downfall) with these substitutions.

  16. “There are many cases of so-called “low carb” products being able to raise blood sugar just as much as their regular counterparts.” … but this is not the case. I have a diabetic son and the nurse at school keeps this bars for cases when he’s hungry but his blood sugar doesn’t allow a “bigger” snack.

    His reaction corresponds to the 2 or 3 grams claimed on the bar. I would love to offer him something else, but school prefers to keep commercial stuff, not homemade. But of course, homemade treats are always better (with stevia or erythritol).

    About the sugar alcohols, well it’s not for everyone, since our colonic bacteria can ferment this stuff, which brings some discomfort. But it’s very individual and it does not mean that sugar alcohol is not healthy (for nonsensitive people) :)

  17. Darn. I do like these Endulge bars and I’ve actually still lost weight with them on the Atkins diet. Well, I guess I won’t be buying any more of them.

    • Joey Marie says:

      Dont let the debbie downers scare you away from things that work for you just because they don’t work for them. I eat the bars quite often and still maintain my weight.

  18. I see a lot of remarks on here that say they wouldn’t touch these things with a ten foot pole. I got to say, I have used these bars in my diet plan, and in my induction phase of the Atkins program. They do as they are advertised. They are a quick meal replacement, high in protein, fats and fiber and they are low in their carb count.

    Most sugar alcohols do not get counted because they do not raise your blood sugar. I recommend people look into the program before jumping to conclusions. This program was made many years ago, technology has improved and so has the way we make and eat our foods.

  19. Sherry Levoy says:

    I am a diabetic and also have digestive problems, the main one being I don’t digest like normal people, it takes me days. I switched to Atkins meals and so far have lost 177 pounds, dropped 1 diabetes med, lowered insulin by 10 units per meal, no more reflux.

    My son also went on it and has lost 15 pounds so far in just 4 weeks. It works. Not everybody can afford to go spend 200 at whole foods (which have been proven to not be as pure as stated) and these meals are a wonderful alternative to reach a great weight and good health.

    • Joey Marie says:

      Oh man I had the worst digestive problems ever. It was due to my Lupus and I could not digest food or many vitamins at all. Doctors could not figure out how to help me so I fixed myself. I bought (ask your doctor first if you can take these) Spring Valley Probiotics, sold at Walmart only $10 for like 30.

      2 days after I started taking them… BAM, no more painful tummy aches or mapping out where all the bathrooms were at wherever I went. Give them a try, I am so happy with my discovery.

    • Frankie says:

      I am so glad to hear some of the positive posts since I have just sent for a free sample of the bars and I need to lose 115 lbs.

      I have been told that carrying the weight is much more dangerous than what might be in these bars and being an absolute sweetaholic since I was young, as well as trying endless to break the curse, I realize (no excuse just fact) that I can’t make it without some kind of dessert.

      Kudos, to all of you that have lost weight and for giving me some hope!

  20. Melting Dan says:

    A lot of “High Horse” talk here. I could not lose weight, nor resist my addiction to carbs before the Atkins diet. Hit 249.5 recently, with terrible eating habits. I lost 15 pounds the first month, en route to my goal weight of 215 (I’m 6’3″). I am adding carbs until I find my balance. Lots of healthy veggies now, instead of chips. Lots of salads with turkey, chicken, or roast beef instead of carb-loaded fast food.

    The low carb bars are my saving grace to maintaining a low carb diet. Sometimes I just can’t take another piece of cheese, veggies, or meat when I need a snack between meals. Personally, I’ll take the weight loss along with the processed bars, rather than continue on the unhealthy path I was on. I could never eat salads every day for lunch without these bars as a snack.

    I buy the Millville version to save some bucks, too. Given how much healthier I eat now, these bars keep me on track at a negligible impact to my health.

  21. I agree with Melting Dan! Honestly, I understand why people say to stay away from highly processed foods especially when you cant even pronounce the ingredients in the snack.

    However, I don’t have very much weight to lose, but I crave chocolate so bad sometimes that I feel like I will go nuts without it. So where do I go… Yes, atkins bars. They are absolutely delicious and their entire idea behind the plan is LOW carbs, LOW sugar, and most have a nice amount of protein in them for under 200 calories.

    They are wonderful quick snacks and have saved me several times from picking up fast food or eating something that’s much worse. I understand staying away from processed foods, but find what works for you like everyone is saying!

    The bars are delicious, and even though they are processed, they will definitely help you lose weight and keep it off as long as you aren’t scarfing down 3 a day or so… I have maybe one as a snack.

  22. I am a 41 year old Mom of 3 children. I am extremely tall, 5’8! I was always naturally slender and never had to worry about my weight, until after age 40. I weigh 140 lbs. I have gained 25 lbs. over the past 13 years! A couple of pounds a year sure adds up!

    My goal weight is 100 lbs. It is quite thin for my height however I look amazing when I am more sleek and slim. I just ate an Atkins bar and concerned about calories, I’m regretting that decision now. I am going to work out now.

    I know “real” food is much better. I was going to eat a pear instead for breakfast but was concerned about the high sugar content of fruit. Lol, thinking that would be better than chemical laden Atkins bar.

    I also wanted protein though which a pear does not have… I started my diet 4 days ago, I have lost 3 lbs. so far with no exercise yet. Going to start working out today. 40 lbs. is not impossible to lose, I hope.

  23. Just wanted to add that all Atkins bars are not equal. A few of them, which I buy pretty regularly myself, are simply a good substitute for candy when one is having cravings for something sweet. Some of them have much less chemicals (not that I think chemicals are necessarily bad) than the ingredient list above and are only intended to be a treat, not a substitute for a whole meal.

    Personally, I find the ones that are made to replace meals tend to be chalky and bland. The peanut butter cups, M&M-like candies, etc., though, are honestly quite good. They’re also better – for me – than eating the real candies.

    It’s silly to totally avoid a product because of one person’s expressed opinion – as valid as it may be. I say just read the labels and try these things for yourself. Trying them won’t kill you.

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