What is the Dukan diet?
If you've ever considered following a weight loss diet make sure you have all the facts first. Our health editor and nutritionist take a look at the Dukan diet...
The history of Dukan
Dubbed ''the French medical solution to permanent weight loss'', the Dukan diet is the ultimate in prescriptive eating, with just 72 foods to choose from in the first phase. Carbs are the enemy, even if they come dressed as fruit and veg.
Pierre Dukan’s high-protein, low-carb plan was first published in France in 2000 under the name ‘Je ne sais pas maigrir’ (I don’t know how to lose weight). It wasn’t until 2010 that the Dukan movement reached the UK, rebranded as the Dukan diet. Despite being the new kid on an already very carb-free block, Dukan carved a gap in the jostling miracle weight loss market with a little help from some fairly well known fans. Kate Middleton, in the run up to her Royal wedding, reportedly dropped two dress sizes following Dukan’s method.
Pierre Dukan began his medical career specialising in neurology but allegedly switched to nutrition after recommending a high-protein diet to a friend desperate to lose weight. So impressed with his friend's rapid reduction in size, Dukan embarked on developing and researching the diet that would eventually make him a household name. To date, the Dukan diet book has sold more than eight million copies worldwide and has been translated into 14 different languages.
Not without controversy, Dukan’s weight loss plan has come under criticism from health professionals, many believing that the diet promotes an unbalanced way of eating. In recent years, Pierre Dukan’s controversial claims have also brought unwanted attention upon the Dukan brand.
Read more about popular diets, from the Paleo diet to the Atkins diet and also check out our delicious low-carb recipes and high protein recipes. If you are considering cutting back on carbs, then read our spotlight on low-carbohydrate diets guide and browse these top 10 low-carb lunch ideas.
The original diet
The original Dukan diet is similar to a ketogenic diet as both emphasise the consumption of fat and protein but omit carbohydrates. The body will turn to glycogen stores (carbohydrates) for energy first if supplies are plentiful. Ketogenic diets essentially force the body to switch from burning carbohydrates for energy to burning fat. This often has the desirable effect of weight loss, though high levels of ketones in the body can be problematic and may lead to a state known as ketosis.
The four phases of the Dukan diet summarised from dukandiet.co.uk:
- Attack phase.
This first stage lasts between five-ten days and promises immediate results. Dieters have 72 high-protein foods to choose from, with absolutely no carbohydrates allowed.
- Cruise phase.
While pure protein days are still encouraged, carbohydrates are slowly reintroduced in the form of 28 pre-approved vegetables. Dukanites stay in this stage until they have reached their ‘goal weight’.
- Consolidation phase
Previously forbidden foods such as fruit and dairy are gradually reintroduced. Followers are even granted two ‘celebration meals’ a week where they are allowed to eat almost anything they like (some restrictions still apply).
- Stabilisation phase
If you’ve managed to reintroduce carbohydrates back into your life without putting weight back on, you’re allowed to smugly step into stage 4 and unlock the ‘rules for life’.
How long people stay on the diet depends on their current weight, fitness and desired goal weight.
The Dukan Diet 2
Since the development of the original Dukan diet, a second programme has been formulated which in essence reflects the original consolidation phase. Dukan 2 involves seven steps – each step represents the dietary inclusion of a food group. Steps one and two involve eating unlimited quantities of 100 allowed foods, which include natural proteins (step one) and vegetables (step two). Subsequent steps involve the graduated addition of fruit, breads, cheese and other starches, such as pasta.
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Nutritionist (MBANT) Kerry Torrens says:
During the initial, very restrictive phase you can expect to lose weight quite quickly which of course acts as a great motivator. The diet is especially attractive for those who don’t like counting calories and prefer a more prescriptive way of eating because it sets out exactly what you can have.
Unlike Atkins, the Dukan diet restricts fat and omits vegetables completely in the first phase, with a gradual re-introduction of some fruit, veg and carbs in the subsequent phases of the diet. It is thought that the stabilisation phase - the last of the four phases – is the one that causes the most problems. That’s because it’s hard to re-introduce a wider selection of food, without putting weight back on, and many followers find it difficult to stick to the dedicated weekly “protein day”.
There is limited scientific support that the Dukan diet is effective and sustainable in the long term, so although you can expect to lose weight in the initial very strict phases of the diet, most go on to regain the weight they originally lost. Furthermore, following a high protein diet in the long-term may present health risks for the kidneys, liver, bones and cardiovascular system.
More importantly, though, the diet ignores key healthy eating principles – including the importance of fruit and veg, the benefits of whole-grains and fibre and the health benefits achieved by selecting from a variety of food groups. For these reasons the diet is likely to be nutritionally imbalanced. It may be argued that the Dukan Diet 2 attempts to address the issue of nutritional imbalance by introducing a wider inclusion of food groups within a prescriptive format over a shorter period of time. Weight loss as a result is said to be slower and more gradual, requiring a longer term commitment to the plan.
As a result of following a restrictive, low-carb diet people sometimes experience the following:
- Lack of energy, fatigue and dizziness because of the low levels of carbs
- Bad breath and a dry mouth
- Constipation and potential bowel problems because of the low levels of fibre
- Nutrient deficiencies because of the restricted food choice.
- Subsequent weight gain, most notably around the waist
Please note, if you are considering attempting any form of diet please consult your GP first to ensure you can do so without risk to health.
If you want to read more about the Dukan diet you can do so at dukandiet.co.uk
Weight loss and good health can be achieved by following a healthy, balanced diet. Our nutritionist approved plan helps you find your perfect portion size, guideline daily amounts and nutritionally balanced breakfasts, lunches, dinners and snacks:
A balanced diet for women
A balanced diet for men
This article was last reviewed on 6 June 2022.
A nutritionist (MBANT) Kerry Torrens is a contributing author to a number of nutritional and cookery publications including BBC Good Food magazine. Kerry is a member of the The Royal Society of Medicine, Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council (CNHC), British Association for Applied Nutrition and Nutritional Therapy (BANT).
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