Weighing in on the Dukan Diet

Published on Mon Apr 04 18:51:00 UTC 2011
Kerri-Ann Jennings

Since I read about the Dukan Diet, which the New York Times has dubbed the “French Atkins,” I’ve been wondering how much this diet will take hold in the U.S. (you can read Elaine Sciolino’s piece in the New York Times here). It’s been wildly popular in Europe, with the French copy selling 3.5 million copies, and is soon to make its North American debut. Adherents, or “Dukannistes” include European celebrities, such as Kate Middleton's glamorous mother, Carole.

What is the Dukan Diet? It’s a low-carb plan made up of 4 phases, with an emphasis on lean protein foods. During Phase 1, which lasts about 5 days, Dukannistes eat only lean protein—fat-free dairy, fish, lean meat, skinless poultry and eggs—with a little bit of oat bran and lots of water. Phase 2 adds low-carb vegetables, such as tomatoes, salad and mushrooms, to the mix and has dieters alternate Phases 1 and 2. Once the Dukannistes reach their target weight, they move onto Phase 3, which allows for a serving each of cheese and fruit and two servings of whole-grain bread daily, two servings of starchy foods, such as potatoes or rice, per week and two moderately-portioned “anything goes” meals per week including wine (however each of these meals is “paid” for by a one-day return to Phase 1 the following day). Phase 3 lasts for 5 days per pound lost. Once Dukannistes move onto Phase 4 (which dieters do once they’ve maintained their target weight for 5 days per pound lost, e.g. 100 days for someone who lost 20 pounds), they can eat anything they want six days a week with the seventh day reserved for lean protein only. Oh, and by the way, there is no sugar (such as honey and maple syrup, or sugar-containing foods, such as chocolate, candy, etc.) allowed, even in Phase 4, although calorie-free sugar substitutes, such as stevia and aspartame, are.

I asked Rachel Johnson, Ph.D., M.P.H., R.D., EatingWell advisor and Professor of Nutrition & Food Sciences at the University of Vermont, what she thought of the Dukan Diet. She said that any diet that limits calories will help people to lose weight and such a monotonous diet will likely restrict calories. However, there’s a catch, Johnson says: “The diet does not appear to be nutritionally adequate or sound. For example, it eliminates fruit until the ‘third stage.’ Fruit is an important, low calorie source of essential vitamins, minerals, fiber and phytonutrients. There are potential health risks with any diet this extreme—especially for people who have metabolic abnormalities such as diabetes. Anyone considering this diet should discuss it first with their primary medical care provider.” She also pointed out that such strict diet is not easy to stick to.

My advice? Find a more sensible way to lose weight, such as tracking calories, while eating a nutritionally balanced, enjoyable diet, as we suggest in the EatingWell Diet.

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