By Kathleen M. Zelman, MPH, RD, LD
WebMD Expert Review
The Dukan Diet: What It Is
It's been a best-seller in France for years, but now The Dukan Diet is getting attention on this side of the pond. It's no wonder: The book claims to have helped 5 million French people lose weight. And singer Jennifer Lopez and model Giselle Bundchen are reported to have lost their post-pregnancy pounds on The Dukan Diet.
The Dukan Diet was created by French physician Pierre Dukan more than 10 years ago as a treatment for obese people.
Essentially, it's a four-phase, high-protein, low-calorie diet plan. There's no weighing foods or counting calories. You eat as much as you want, at any time of day -- as long as what you're eating is lean protein, at least initially.
In fact, protein is the centerpiece in all four phases, along with oat bran, lots of water, and a 20-minute daily walk. Vegetables are allowed in the second stage, followed by small amounts of fruit and whole grains.
Sound familiar? It's much like the first Atkins diet. Dieters lose weight rapidly -- as much as 1-2 pounds a day during the first phase -- which Dukan says helps to instill lasting motivation. He promises that hunger will disappear after the third day.
The Dukan Diet: What You Can Eat
Phase 1, the "Attack" phase, is quite simple: Eat all you want of lean protein, along with 1.5 tablespoons of oat bran and 1.5 liters of water daily. That's it. Dieters can choose from 72 lean or low-fat meats (excluding pork and lamb), fish, poultry, eggs, soy, and nonfat dairy.
This is followed by the "Cruise" phase, which allows unlimited amounts of 28 non-starchy vegetables every other day along with a core diet of unlimited lean/low-fat protein and 2 tablespoons of oat bran. Carrots, peas, corn, and potatoes are not on this list of vegetables but appear in the next phase.
Phase 3, "Consolidation," allows unlimited protein (including pork and lamb) and vegetables every day, along with one piece of low-sugar fruit, 2 slices of whole-grain bread, and 1 portion of hard cheese. Dieters can also have 1-2 servings of starchy foods and 1-2 "celebration" meals (in which you can eat whatever you want) per week during this phase. In this phase, you begin the lifetime commitment of eating the core diet of pure protein one day each week, preferably the same day.
Phase 4, "Stabilization," is the maintenance portion of the plan. The author promises you can eat whatever you like without regain if you follow his rules -- one day a week, follow the same all-protein diet as in Phase 1; eat 3 tablespoons of oat bran a day; and walk for 20 minutes daily and never take elevators or escalators.
The Dukan Diet: How It Works
In theory, this is how the plan works: Phase 1 promotes rapid weight loss with a protein-only diet. Stay on this phase anywhere from 1-10 days, and expect to lose at a rate of 7 pounds in 5 days.
During Phase 2, which could last for months, depending on how much weight you need to lose, your body recuperates and adjusts to your weight loss. Dukan recommends sticking with this phase until you reach your goal weight, with the expectation of dropping 2 pounds per week.
Phase 3 is the critically important period between weight loss and maintenance, when the plan lightens up a bit but no weight loss is expected. This is a time when your body is vulnerable to putting pounds back on, according to the book. But if you stay in this phase five days for every pound you've lost, the book says, you'll avoid regain.
Phase 4, the maintenance part of the plan, is meant to be lifelong. You'll keep the weight off for good, the book says, if you follow this phase's requirements for a weekly all-protein day, plus oat bran and exercise.
The Dukan Diet: What the Experts Say
You'll certainly lose weight on The Dukan Diet because it cuts calories drastically. The lack of carbs also helps keep hunger at bay. But the bottom line, experts say, is that this eating plan does not include all the nutrients you need for good health.
"A once-daily multivitamin will not compensate for the nutritional goodness from fruits, whole grains and healthy fats that are inadequate in The Dukan Diet," says Keri Gans, MS, RD, a spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association.
She points out the health hazards of restrictive dieting. “When dieters start losing weight rapidly, I worry they will continue the restrictive phases longer than advised -- which puts them at risk for nutrient deficiencies and kidney problems," says Gans.
Losing more than 1-2 pounds per week can promote gallstones and muscle loss, she says: "It is unhealthy to lose weight so quickly because you not only lose fat and fluids but precious muscle mass, which is really hard to replace, especially as you get older."
"Your body's preferred fuel to energize and keep you going is smart carbs, and when you eat a healthy diet you should feel great -- not have negative side effects," Gans says.
The Dukan Diet: Food for Thought
There is no question this very restrictive diet will lead to weight loss, if you can actually follow it. But the elimination of healthy food groups, and the unpleasant side effects, makes The Dukan Diet an unlikely choice for the long haul.
Protein is an essential part of a healthy diet, but it cannot stand alone. A truly healthy diet includes all the food groups -- vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and low-fat dairy and healthy fats along with lean protein. Your body needs the nutrients these foods provide.
Skip this fad diet. Instead, choose a calorie-controlled eating plan that you can stick with for the long term.
Kathleen Zelman, MPH, RD, is director of nutrition for WebMD. Her opinions and conclusions are her own.
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Dukan, P. The Dukan Diet, Hodder and Stoughton, 2010.
Keri Gans, MS, RD, spokesperson, American Dietetic Association; nutrition consultant, New York.
Edited on June 30, 2010
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