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Dukan Diet Review

May 2, 2011 Written by JP       [Font too small?]

At the end of last year Mrs. Healthy Fellow and I took a trip to Paris and the French Riveria. While there we surveyed the natural health and nutritional landscape. A term that kept coming up in our travels was The Dukan Diet. According to the cover of the book bearing the name, this dietary approach provides nothing less than “The Real Reason the French Stay Thin”. Now The Dukan Diet has made its way to Canada and the United States. It’s been modified to address a few cultural differences and is slated to become the next “it” diet. The question is: Should you consider adopting the principles contained within the pages of this weight loss guide?

Although new to North America, The Dukan Diet has been in practice in one form or another for over 30 years. There’s quite a lot of conjecture and controversy about this recent import. So rather than piecing together purported facts about it, let’s first go directly to the source, Dr. Pierre Dukan. Here are some recent quotes from Dr. Dukan about his weight loss approach:

  • “When I was a young doctor in 1975, one of my patients asked me to help him lose weight. He said a sentence that changed my life: ‘I’ll do everything you want except not eat meat.’ I said, ‘Okay, eat only lean meat, drink water and return to me in five days.’ He did – and he lost almost 12 pounds. That was the beginning.”
  • “… it’s good for people who have tried to diet without success. It’s composed of four stages: two for losing weight and two for stabilizing weight. I use 100 foods: 72 are rich in protein but lean and 28 are vegetables.”
  • “During the third phase, you add two slices of bread, one portion of fruit and cheese, along with two servings of carbohydrates. You also get two celebration meals a week. You can have anything you want – but only one portion of it.”
  • “[Phase four is] the key to success, and it’s not negotiable. You can eat what you want, but you have to follow these simple rules: Every seven days, you have to go back to phase one and eat from the 72 protein-rich foods. You must walk 20 minutes every day, you can’t take an elevator and you must eat three tablespoons of oat bran a day.” (1)

If you’re wondering about phases 1 & 2, here’s a brief rundown according to Dr. Dukan’s website. The first “attack” phase allows one to eat 67 to 72 protein-rich foods in addition to skim dairy and sugar-free gelatin. Coffee, herbs, spices, sugar substitutes and tea are permitted. The duration of this highly restrictive stage is between 2 to 10 days.

Phase 2 is referred to as the “cruise” stage. This is where the majority of the purported weight loss will occur. Participants remain in the phase, which allows for the inclusion of select vegetables in addition to protein, until the desired amount of weight loss is achieved.

Some nutritionists and reporters have likened Dr. Pierre’s diet to the low-carbohydrate diet popularized by the late Dr. Robert Atkins, The Atkins Diet. This is an example of sloppy journalism in my opinion. Both camps, Atkins and Dukan, make it a point to differentiate themselves from each other. The primary differences between the two diets are as follows: a) the Dukan diet restricts fat intake and relies on a limited list of approved foods; b) the Atkins program suggests that you count carbohydrates – not so with Dukan; c) the Atkins diet has an extensive line of refined foods and supplements that can be used as part of its recommended lifestyle; d) the Dukan Diet has no published scientific evidence that specifically supports its efficacy and safety. For illustration’s sake, if you search for scientific publications on the Dukan Diet, you’ll find none. If you type in the phrase “Atkins Diet” into a database of the medical literature, you’ll turn up 733 hits.

To simply say that the Dukan Diet is a “French Atkins Diet” is ludicrous. For one thing, the Dukan Diet doesn’t resemble any form of traditional French eating paradigm of which I’m aware. Secondly, the research that supports the use of the Atkins Diet or any other, typical low-carbohydrate diet cannot and should not be used to endorse the Dukan Diet. The macronutrient compositions are simply too unalike. Most low-carbohydrate diets are not “high-protein” and are certainly not “low-fat”. Rather, they tend to be higher in fat, moderate in protein and low in non-fiber carbohydrates. Therefore, when recent studies reveal that carbohydrate restricted diets are an effective means of controlling epilepsy, improving cardiovascular health, reducing fat build-up in the liver and promoting weight loss you can’t extrapolate those findings to the Dukan regimen. (2,3,4,5,6,7,8)

Replacing Carbohydrates with Protein Improves Weight Loss Outcomes

Source: Yonsei Med J. 2011 March 1; 52(2): 249–256. (link)

Earlier, Dr. Dukan mentioned that oat bran is an important component of his dietary philosophy. According to Dr. Dukan there are distinct attributes to oat bran including an ability to lower cholesterol and promote weight loss via improved blood sugar control and satiety. These claims are, in large part, accurate. However, the problem I have with his love of oat bran is that the scientific literature does not suggest that oats are somehow superior to other common forms of fiber. Less trendy sources of fiber, including coconut flakes, flaxseeds, guar gum and even psyllium perform equally well and sometimes better than oat bran in controlled, clinical studies. This is true regarding both appetite and cholesterol modification. The bottom line is that there is nothing magical about oat bran. In fact, some studies fail to find significant health benefits in patients receiving oat bran – especially when very high dosages aren’t used. This is relevant because The Dukan Diet only requires a very modest amount of daily fiber from oat bran – under 5 grams/day. (9,10,11,12,13,14,15,16,17,18,19,20,21,22,23)

I think the above information about Dr. Dukan’s promotion of oat bran is very telling. Why would someone overhype a singular dietary component in this way? Here’s my hunch: Oats are about as well respected a food as you can find in mainstream perception. The addition of oat bran allows many “low-carbophobics” to feel more comfortable with the idea of curbing carb intake. Also, Dr. Dukan is prepping his audience for the upcoming launch of his very own, “unique” oat bran product that is set to be sold in Dukan Boutiques and on his website. This solitary aspect of the Dukan Diet explains the totality of it. This isn’t a lifestyle and menu plan that has a solid foundation to back it up. The marketing and sales machine behind it are first rate, but at it’s core, it’s a hollow shell.

Be well!

JP

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20 Comments & Updates to “Dukan Diet Review”

  1. Joel Says:

    Did you run into the other French diet, the Ideal Protein diet? I don’t know much about the Dukan diet, but at first glimpse it seems the IP sits between the Dukan and Atkins. I will disclose I am presently following the IP program, but plan to phase into eating more closely to what you suggest as I approach goal.

  2. anne h Says:

    Very nicely done!
    And what an interesting picture, too!

    Just the other day, I read about the Dukan Diet in detail.
    I had always heard about it, but now I really read up on it.
    It always raises an eyebrow when a Low Carb diet
    turns around and makes exceptions.

  3. Brian Ellwood Says:

    Hey JP,

    Liked the article on the Dukan Diet. Funny enough, I posted one about it yesterday myself! After I wrote it I watched Dr. Oz, on which they discussed the benefits and the dangers of the Dukan Diet. Dr. Joel Fuhrman, author of Eat to Live, gave it a rating of 1 out of 10! They discussed the dangers of losing weight rapidly, and then putting it back on (which many do in stages 3 and 4 of this diet), and then taking it off again as they are forced to start the diet anew. Dr. Fuhrman said that, in adopting this diet, we are basically taking everything we learned from the Atkins diet 20 years ago and throwing it out the window. Anyways, kudos to you for helping to keep people off of this dangerous regimen! I believe that people do not ever need diets, but instead lifestyle changes…things they will do for the rest of their lives.

  4. alex Says:

    the principles of diet program can be followed by people, the best diet program offered to you will be useless if you do not have a awarness of doing a weight loss. means that people must not just say but do and do it.

  5. Mark S Says:

    That was a very timely article. Excellent work.

    But the sad thing is that there will be many who struggle losing weight and jump on this dangerous diet.

  6. JP Says:

    Alex,

    I agree that awareness and mindfulness are very important. Thank you for your comments.

    Be well!

    JP

  7. JP Says:

    Thank you, Mark.

    Judging by the sales of the book so far, I’d say you’re correct. I’m not sure that this diet is necessarily dangerous – at least not more dangerous than the poor eating habits that lead people to it. But I do think it’s rather convoluted, hyperbolic and far from ideal.

    Be well!

    JP

  8. GR_J Says:

    I think for some, morbid obesity is a challenging and difficult aspect that colours every part of their life. VLCDs like Cambridge or Lighterlife are often embarked on with doctors consent and encouragement and have quite serious side effects.
    For those people the Dukan Diet is a real and positive alternative; far better to be eating a restricted diet of real foods than protein powders.
    The attack phase of the Dukan Diet lasts a maximum of ten days and after that the cruise phase adds a wide variety of vegetables,salads and herbs on alternate days.
    I like the fact this programme does not see the weight loss phase as the end but moves through two further stages which enables the weight loss to be stabilised and consolidated. For many people they are wonderful at losing the weight but dreadful at keeping it off and the relentless cycle of diet, weight loss, regain plus extra, and diet again results in an increasing bodily resistance to losing weight.
    Dukan is not for everyone but for those who can work through the programme’s four stages it could be a life-saver.

  9. JP Says:

    Dear Ladies and Gents,

    My sincerest apologies … for some reason, I wasn’t receiving the e-mail notification of your comments. I have no idea why this happened. Please forgive my delayed response.

    Be well,

    JP

  10. JP Says:

    Joel,

    I have limited knowledge about the Ideal Protein Diet. I tend to recoil from programs that emphasize pre-package foods.

    How are you doing on the program? Why does it suit you better than other strategies you’ve tried before?

    Be well!

    JP

  11. JP Says:

    Thank you, Anne! Me too. :)

    Be well!

    JP

  12. JP Says:

    Thank you, Brian. I agree. Sustainable lifestyle changes are the way to go, IMO. It’s kind of like any bad habit (cheating, lying, smoking, etc>) … why look for a temporary remedy? :)

    Be well!

    JP

  13. JP Says:

    Thank you for sharing your perspective about The Dukan Diet, GR_J. I appreciate it.

    Be well!

    JP

  14. Cyndi D'Auria Says:

    Hello,
    J.P. Your article on the Dukan diet is quite informative. It appears to be the “new” craze in diets.
    In particular due to Princess Kate and her Mom both losing weight on this diet.
    Nice to know some facts!
    Thank you so much,

  15. JP Says:

    Thank you, Cyndi. :)

    Be well!

    JP

  16. JP Says:

    Dr. Dukan goes to court:

    http://www.nutraingredients.com/Regulation/French-nutritionists-take-protein-diet-feud-to-court

    Be well!

    JP

  17. Terri Alexander Says:

    Hi JP, First let me thank you for your generosity and contribution to your loyal followers,(including me).

    I am always weary of Promotional diets, that sell ideas to the overweight population.

    “Keep it simple” has been my motto along with “Personal Weight loss” Program, its an Individual journey that everyone is capable of implementing independently.
    My wish is for more websites such as yours that informs, empowers the reader to take initiative for better well being.

    Terri Louise Alexander
    http://www.yogakw.com
    terriyoga1@twitter.com
    Facebook; Yoga Breath Studio

  18. Louise Says:

    Hello

    I only found this today and I can see that it is nearly a year since anyone posted to it.

    I am 52 years old. I started the Dukan diet on 1st January 2011, b the end of 2011 I had lost 30 kilos and got to my target weight of 70 kilos. I found the diet a struggle but it worked for me because I have no control. I can’t eat just one chocolate or drink just one glass of wine I can rule them out altogether. It worked for me and I feel a lot healthier for it. I also walk everywhere now and thoroughly enjoy it. I even went on a walking holiday last year and walked for about 30 kilometres every day. I am happier with my body than I have been in a long time.

    By December my face started looking quite thin and my friends told me to stop losing. Wasn’t it Channel who said their comes a time in every woman’s life when she has to chose between her face and her but?

    This year I am still walking and I should be in phase 3 of the diet -stabilisation – I can’t do it. Every time I eat carbohydrates I put on weight. If I eat them for more than three days running I can put on quite a lot of weight. I can have my gala meal but I have the same problems that I had before I started – just one is never enough. I still have those same cravings I did before. So my life is sort of swings and roundabouts this year. During the week I eat mainly protein with the oat bran and no fat dairy. At the weekends I eat just a little more than that as I eat with my family. I will drink a glass of wine on occasions.

    What I can’t ever do is eat just what I want. I dare not enjoy a meal and feel relaxed about it. I feel guilty just looking at a chocolate bar. I walk past the bakers and breath in the smell of freshly baked bread like an ex smoker inhaling the exhaled smoke of someone in a bar.

    I know that my relationship with food has never been a healthy one but I don’t feel that this is any better a way to live. I am much healthier and I can move about, my ankles no longer swell and I can climb a mountain without losing my breath. But I no longer cook Italian food or Indian food, Mexican is out so is Chines. Food bores me – I look at my chicken roasted without the skin and my salad dressed with lemon juice and vinegar and it sometimes makes me want to cry. I long for bananas and cherries which are banned and I am sick of yoghurt.

    Sorry I didn’t mean for this to go on for quite so long but I couldn’t stop once I started.

    It was good to get that out.

    Thanks
    Louise

  19. msrusso Says:

    Simply – Carbohydrates are water rich – so if you binge on carbos, you are adding lots of water and water weighs a lot.
    The protein-rich diets tend to dehydrate…and that’s why a well-reasoned dietician will advise boosting your water intake with any protein-rich approach. The trick in these diets is to somehow balance the strain on your “cleansing” organs (the ones that reduce water volume in the body tissues) and the water that your body needs to operate both effectively and efficiently.
    My thoughts – find the diet that tricks your cells into working just a LITTLE BIT harder. Find the diet and life style of movement that will push your metabolism into “burning” a bit faster or ‘hotter’.
    There are lots of ways to lose over-all weight – but its those little cellular factories that make all the difference.
    And BTW those factories don’t work in the same way after reproductive-hormone-reduction as before it. When you can’t reproduce anymore with vigor (to populate the species) all bets on weight control and muscle building are off the table until you relearn your body and its operation. There is no longer the inbred-natural imperative to keep your physical body in top maintenance any longer.
    Science(medicine) still hasn’t truly broken the code (found the keys in DNA) on how to stop and reverse the aging processes. It’s all artificial(man-made, blunt instrument) “fixing” and tinkering at the edges if you wish to maintain the same levels of “fitness” or “looks” as in your 40′s.
    It’s a new life, baby.

  20. JP Says:

    Update 05/31/15:

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26024402 (full text available as a PDF)

    Rocz Panstw Zakl Hig. 2015;66(2):137-142.

    Assessment of food intakes for women adopting the high protein Dukan diet.

    BACKGROUND: Overweight and obesity are metabolic disorders affecting both adults and children. Effective treatment of these conditions is focused on decreasing the body mass, through individually tailored and well balanced diets, along with increasing physical activity. Obese persons often, however, choose high protein diets for losing weight. Recently in Poland, the high-protein Dukan-diet has become very popular.

    OBJECTIVES: To assess dietary consumption in women adopting the Dukan-diet, including intakes of protein, fat, carbohydrate as well as vitamins and minerals.

    MATERIALS AND METHODS: Subjects were 51 women aged 19-64 years on the Dukan-diet, who were surveyed by individually conducted interview. Women were asked to provide typical menus from each phase of their diets. Quantitative dietary intake assessment was achieved by an officially used ‘Photograph album of foodstuffs and dishes’ as custom-designed by the National Food and Nutrition Institute (IZZ) in Warsaw.

    RESULTS: Protein intakes in all subjects were excessive, especially those of animal origin when compared to recommended nutritional standards. In contrast, dietary carbohydrate intakes were low due to poor consumption of fruit and vegetables. Mineral and vitamin intakes revealed high potassium, iron and vitamins A, D and B2, but low vitamin C and folates. Women’s average weight reduction after 8-10 weeks of dieting was approximately 15 kilograms.

    CONCLUSIONS: Many nutritional abnormalities were found in women on the high protein Dukan-diet. Adopting this diet in the long-term may pose health threats through acquiring kidney and liver disease, osteoporosis and cardiovascular disease.

    Be well!

    JP

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