For many Americans, calorie counting is one of the primary features of most weight loss diets—but not in the eyes of Pierre Dukan, the French doctor who created the Dukan Diet in 2000. Dr. Dukan’s theory that protein is the key to long-term weight loss is based on his experience of helping more than 40,000 patients of his patients lose weight in France. (The French without their bread and butter? We know.)
Today, the Dukan Diet is one of the most popular weight-loss plans in Europe, as Kate Middleton reportedly followed the diet while she was preparing for her upcoming nuptials with Prince William in 2011 and again post-pregnancy. But does this diet support a healthy, balanced lifestyle? As a registered dietitian who has reviewed a variety of diets, including the South Beach Diet Keto-Friendly Plan, the Flexitarian Diet, and the Ornish Diet, I wanted to learn more about why Europeans are obsessed with the Dukan Diet. Here’s what I found.
What is the Dukan Diet, exactly?
The Dukan Diet is a high-protein, low-carb, and low-fat diet designed for weight loss. After seeing many of his patients lose weight on his plan, Dr. Dukan published The Dukan Diet in France, where it’s still the number one diet program. Since then, the book gained traction and popularity and has sold more than seven million copies globally.
The Dukan Diet is comprised of four phases: Attack, Cruise, Consolidation, and Stabilization. During the first two phases—which are focused on weight loss—your protein intake is more than 40% of your daily calorie consumption, which is well above the USDA’s recommendations. The third and fourth phases emphasize preserving weight loss and maintaining what Dr. Dukan calls your “True Weight,” the weight you can achieve without feeling hungry and deprived or impacting your mood and overall health.
What do you eat on the Dukan Diet?
As I mentioned, the Dukan Diet is broken down into four phases. The first two phases are the most restrictive, especially the Attack phase which doesn’t allow healthy fats, fruits, and vegetables (Yes, you heard that right).
Phase 1 - Attack
Also known as the Pure Protein phase, you can enjoy unlimited low-fat, high-protein foods, including lean beef, pork, poultry, non-fat dairy, eggs, fish, and tofu. You’re also allowed to eat 1.5 tablespoons of oat bran per day. According to Dr. Dukan, the oat bran is meant to reduce cholesterol and help prevent diabetes, but it’s also there to add fiber to your diet and promote satiety. The length of this phase ranges from two to seven days, depending on how much weight you need to lose.
Phase 2 - Cruise
After several days on phase 2, you’ll reintroduce non-starchy vegetables, such as cucumbers, mushrooms, spinach, asparagus, and broccoli. You will alternate between protein-only days and protein-vegetable days, along with two tablespoons of oat bran daily. Dieters stay in this phase until they reach their True Weight.
Phase 3 - Consolidation
This phase is designed to prevent the rebound effect of gaining back the pounds lost during the first two phases. During this phase, foods that were previously restricted are gradually added in limited quantities. You will continue to follow a protein-vegetable diet and consume two tablespoons of oat bran daily. Once a week, you are required to follow a Pure Protein day from the Attack phase. Phase 3 lasts five days for every pound lost.
Moreover, during the Consolidation phase, you can eat one to two servings of fruit (excluding bananas, grapes, figs, and cherries) and two slices of whole-grain bread per day. You're also allowed to consume 1.5 ounces of hard cheese, one to two servings of starchy food, and one to two celebration meals per week. A celebration meal includes an appetizer, entrée, dessert, and one glass of wine.
Phase 4 - Stabilization
On this final phase (aka the rest of your life), you can eat whatever you want along with three tablespoons of oat bran per day. As in the phase 3, a Pure Protein day is required once a week.
Does the Dukan Diet really help you lose weight?
U.S. News & World Report ranked the Dukan Diet number 41 in its 2019 best diets overall list and number 31 for best weight loss diets. The Dukan Diet claims you can lose up to 10 pounds during the first week of following the diet, but since it’s a strict plan, it can be difficult to sustain long-term.
The Dukan Diet lacks specific scientific research to support its claims, efficacy, and long-term effects on overall health. However, there have been studies that suggests that high-protein, low-carb diets are effective for weight loss in the short-term.
A May 2018 study from Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism suggests that low-carb diets, such as the Dukan Diet, are effective for helping women with prediabetes reduce their risk of heart disease. However, it’s important to note that most studies researching the effects of high-protein, low-carb diets do not include restricting dietary fats as outlined in the Dukan Diet. So it’s harder to assess the effects of the diet both short- and long-term.
More research and evidence is needed to support the claims that following low-carb, high-protein, low-fat diets, such as the Dukan Diet, are safe and effective for weight loss.
The drawbacks of the Dukan Diet
The Dukan Diet can result in significant weight loss, especially for those who are very overweight or obese. However, the diet is very rigid and restrictive, especially during the first two phases. And because you’re restricting major food groups, like fruits, healthy fats, and vegetables, it can lead to nutritional deficiencies.
In the long-term, a high-protein, low-carb diet may also harm the kidneys, as they need to work harder to metabolize such high intakes of protein. You may also experience common side effects of a low-carb diet, like headaches, lethargy, and constipation.
Whether the Dukan Diet can help prevent or manage chronic diseases, like heart disease and diabetes, is unclear. The first two phases of the diet lack fruits, vegetables, and whole grains—hallmarks of a heart-healthy and diabetes-friendly diet. On the other hand, people on the Consolidation and Stabilization phases, which are less strict, may be able to sustain a healthy weight and good overall health.
How to get started on the Dukan diet
Before starting the Dukan Diet, you must establish your goal weight, which Dr. Dukan refers to as your “True Weight.” The True Weight will determine how long you’ll stay on each of the first three phases of the diet.
To prepare for the Attack phase, be sure to stock your kitchen with approved foods. It’s also helpful to use the Dukan Diet website, diet book, cookbook, and Facebook page for high-protein, low-fat, and low-carb recipe ideas and social support. The Dukan Diet site is a great resource for more details of each phase of the diet, and it includes a robust FAQ section, as well as customized coaching for the first three phases of the diet.
Before starting the Dukan Diet, it’s important to consult with a primary care physician, especially people with pre-existing conditions including diabetes, heart disease, kidney disease, or anyone prone to kidney stones. Pregnant and breastfeeding women should also avoid this diet. Visit the Dukan Diet site for more information and resources.
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