Is the Dukan Diet a Healthy Way to Lose Weight?
The Dukan diet promises rapid weight loss — without hunger. But is it healthy?

Is the Dukan Diet a Healthy Way to Lose Weight?

Few people will say no to a diet that promises quick and sustainable weight-loss results. Enter the Dukan diet. Developed by French doctor, weight-management expert and nutritionist Pierre Dukan, this protein-based diet claims that fast and sustained weight loss leaving you feeling hungry.

Although the Dukan diet has been around for more than 30 years, it became popular in France after the publication of the book 2000 and it gained worldwide fame in 2010 when Kate Middleton recommended it after dropping two dress sizes before her royal wedding. Its rapid weight loss results have also been endorsed by celebrities like Gisele Bundchen and Jennifer Lopez.

But is it right for you?

How Does the Dukan Diet Work?

The Dukan diet maintains that counting calories isn't the key to weight loss; a diet high in protein and low in carbohydrates is. Protein helps facilitate weight loss by increasing your metabolic rate and reducing your appetite — in other words, you'll feel fuller longer and burn more calories.

By severely limiting your carb and fat intake, especially in its first phases, the Dukan diet forces your body to burn stored fat for energy. This frequently means quick weight loss; proponents of the diet claim that you can lose up to 5 kilograms within the first week.

This is all done without counting calories. The diet has an approved list of 100 foods, most of them animal proteins. Though the Dukan diet is restrictive in what you can eat, it places no restrictions on how much of these foods you can eat.

The first step of the Dukan diet is assessing your true weight based on your age, weight-loss history and other relevant criteria. Once you've calculated your true weight, the diet unfolds in four phases. The first two are designed for rapid weight loss; the next two help you stabilise and maintain your target weight. Each phase allows for some combinations of the 100 approved foods.

  • Attack phase: The Attack phase lasts between seven and 10 days, during which you eat almost nothing but protein: meat, fish, eggs, vegetable protein (such as tofu and seitan), nonfat dairy. You'll also need to eat 1.5 tablespoons of oat bran every day. Spices and herbs and encouraged.
  • Cruise phase: In the Cruise phase, you'll be able to eat certain nonstarchy vegetables again; these include cucumbers, mushrooms, zucchini, peppers and salad greens. Your oat bran requirement is upped to 2 tablespoons a day, and you're still encouraged to eat as much protein as possible. Dukan recommends that you alternate between the Attack phase (wherein you just eat protein) and the Cruise phase (a mix of protein and vegetables) until you hit your true weight. How long this phase lasts depends on your true weight, but Dukan says that dieters lose, on average, about a kilogram per week.
  • Consolidation phase: During the consolidation phase, you'll reintroduce certain carbs and fats: limited servings of fresh fruit, grains, hard cheeses, starches (like quinoa or pasta). You're also allowed one or two celebration meals where you can eat anything you want, provided you don't binge or eat those meals back-to-back. You're also required to stick to one pure-protein Attack phase day each week. This phase lasts 11 days for each kilogram lost during the Cruise phase.
  • Stabilisation phase: The last phase is intended to carry you through the rest of your life. You can eat whatever you want six days out of the week, but there are three non-negotiable rules: You now have to eat 3 tablespoons of oat bran every day; the seventh day must mirror the Attack phase (restricts even more of the acceptable foods list); and you must get 20 minutes of cardiovascular exercise every day.

What Does Science Say?

There aren't many studies that focus squarely on the Dukan diet, but there is plenty of evidence supporting the high-protein, low-carb approach to weight loss. Eating fewer carbohydrates has been shown to increase your energy levels and leave you fuller, too — which could do wonders for those looking to lose weight.

One rare study published in the Polish journal Rocz Panstw Zakl Hig in 2015 found that women who followed the Dukan diet lost an average of 15 kilograms in 10 weeks by eating ~1,000 calories and ~100 grams of protein per day.

Considering fibre's many health benefits — helping you maintain a healthy weight and keeping cancer at bay — it's puzzling why the Dukan diet restricts it. Even though oat bran is part of this protein-based diet, there isn't enough fibre in this eating plan to meet nutritional needs.

Who Benefits the Most From the Dukan Diet?

The Dukan diet may appear to be a fad diet, but the initial phase of quick weight loss can be motivating for many, including:

  • Healthy people without any pre-existing health issues who are looking to lose a few pounds in a short span of time
  • People who are seeking a low-fat diet and don't want to count calories

While some people find the diet effective, its very restrictive rules can make it difficult to follow, and you'll need a lot of willpower to follow those rules.

What you need to know before you try this

Low-carb, high-protein diets often come with several side effects, such as headaches, bad breath, weakness and muscle camps, says the Mayo Clinic. While there are few reputable studies on this diet's safety, research suggests that its increased protein intake presents risks, including constipation and increased risk for heart and kidney disease.

Because the diet is so restrictive, and often shuts out entire food groups, nutritional deficiencies are possible, says the U.S. News and World Report. And because your body is forced to burn fat for energy, an increased level of ketones in the body can lead to ketosis, which could lead to insomnia and fatigue, and, in severe cases, ketoacidosis.

Rapid weight loss can also lead to gallstones and muscle loss, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.

If you have renal disease or kidney stones, the Dukan diet will require you to consume too much protein. And if you have a heart condition or digestive issue, this diet will not provide enough fibre for you to stay healthy. The Dukan diet's lack of fibre and other nutrient restrictions can also mean unstable blood sugars, which is no good for those with diabetes. The diet is also not recommended for pregnant and breastfeeding women.

While you'll probably lose weight, this diet may not provide the essential nutrients for good health. So as with any fad diet, consult your doctor before you try Dukan.

Disclaimer: This publication/article/editorial is meant for awareness/educational purposes and does not constitute or imply an endorsement, sponsorship or recommendation of any products. Please consult your doctor/healthcare practitioner before starting any diet, medication or exercise.