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Does the Dukan Method and Other High-Protein Diets Really Work?

England’s future princess may dieting the Dukan way, but Mary Porter shares the pros and cons of this restrictive approach

The Dukan Diet has received a lot of attention lately – not surprisingly, I’m sure, due to the press over the lovely Kate Middleton ostensibly following it to shed a few pre-wedding pounds. Astonishingly, this young woman who is no larger than a stalk of bamboo feels the need to be thinner and her “challenge” has produced a surge of interest in a diet that could be called a fad. But is it? Does it work? Is it sustainable?

Popular diets come and go – and many get recycled. The Dukan Diet, designed by Dr. Pierre Dukan as a way to treat his obese patients, has been popular in France for many years and has more recently captured the imagination of dieters in the U.K. Similar to the Atkins Diet, Dukan focuses on very high-protein meals and intense carbohydrate restriction. The appealing aspect of Dukan over Adkins is that, on certain days, wine and dessert are allowed. No wonder the French love it. The plan, if followed religiously, can result in rapid, sensational weight loss – the magic bullet that many dieters desperately seek. That in itself would seem motivating enough to stick with it. So why is it that the majority of people who embark on food-restrictive diets like Dukan end up falling off the wagon only to resume their quest for permanent weight loss with another magic promise plan? Part of the answer is we don’t fully understand how the restrictions of these diets affect our bodies and how our bodies fight back. So, in the interest of understanding just what will help you shed those unwanted pounds while maintaining good health, I’d like to unpack this popular diet trend.

High Protein Diets

The success of high-protein diets, like Adkins and Dukan, and others like South Beach, especially in their early stages, is that protein is very filling and metabolizes slowly which prevents dieters from feeling hungry. Much of the early weight loss from these diets is from water housed in your muscle. For some that loss can be rapid which can be euphoric. The difficulty many find is that when moving onto the next stages of these diets, the weight loss plateaus or even reverses. Why?

Because bodies need a balance of nutrients to survive and thrive, maintain a strong immune system and fight disease. When nutrients are out of balance, deficiencies occur that the body attempts to regulate, but after an extended period of deprivation, cannot. In the case of a protein-centric diet, the excess of protein comes at the expense of plant-based foods which are low in fat and packed with essential nutrients that regulate our body’s daily functions. Reduction of carbohydrates means a reduction of fiber which is essential to our digestive health as well as maintaining and lowering cholesterol. High amounts of protein, even of a lean variety, mean higher amounts of saturated fats. That can lead to an increased risk for heart disease and stroke (yes, even in someone as young as the lovely Kate Middleton).

Carbohydrates are the body’s main source of fuel created when foods are converted into glucose (or blood sugar) and used immediately or stored for later use. Carbohydrates help to stabilize blood sugar and, with the appropriate fiber from “good carbs” help us to feel full for a lengthy amount of time. Every cell and tissue in our body needs glucose to function properly. Without carbohydrates, the body begins to pull stored glucose from the muscle and liver, leading to muscle breakdown and possibly ketosis, a state in which your body begins to burn its own essential fats instead of glucose for energy. Ketosis can result in conditions such as gout, kidney stones or kidney failure.

I’ve said before in this column that your body is a biological super-computer. It knows when it isn’t getting what it needs to work properly. Muscle breakdown and ketosis are the body’s way of trying to survive. The visible weight loss you might achieve on a popular diet will always be at the expense of your health by means of deprivation. Your body’s strangled cry for balance is why most popular, food-restrictive diets can’t be sustained.

Finding the balanced diet of whole foods that embraces variety and sensible portions and modifying your lifestyle to reduce stress as well as nourish you through non-food means are just several of the real magic bullets to finding your “right” weight and transitioning to a vibrant life. If done well, you can have your wine and dessert too.

Mary Porter is a nutrition educator and counselor living in the Fort Hunt area. Her company, A Better Plate, works with individuals, corporations and groups teaching the art and practice of nourishment. You can email her at mary@betterplate.com

Mmm April 05, 2011 at 04:25 AM
Completely false.
sandraslade123 April 05, 2011 at 05:59 AM
Yes most of the brands do give out samples of their products. Look for "123 Get Samples" online and get the samples. They are the best. You wont need CC.
Mary Porter, CHC April 05, 2011 at 12:05 PM
Greetings Mmm, can you elaborate?
Atropos April 05, 2011 at 02:55 PM
> In the case of a protein-centric diet, the excess of protein comes at the expense of plant-based foods which are low in fat and packed with essential nutrients that regulate our body’s daily functions. Reduction of carbohydrates means a reduction of fiber which is essential to our digestive health as well as maintaining and lowering cholesterol. False - The Dukan diet incorporates unlimited amounts of plant based low fat foods from the very first week - spinach, tomatoes, peppers, squash, oatbran, mushrooms, mangetout, rhubarb, cabbage, carrots... High amounts of protein, even of a lean variety, mean higher amounts of saturated fats. False: The majority of the protein in the Dukan diet comes from Zero-fat dairy, fish, chicken with some lean beef. Pork and lamb are excluded from the diet.
Mary Porter, CHC April 05, 2011 at 05:44 PM
Atropos, thank you, your clarification is an important one. True, Dukan does allow for unlimited amounts of plant-based foods, but, according to the protocol, only after the initial pure-protein Attack Phase which can last 1-10 days. You can stay on this phase longer if you want to lose more (assuming you have your doctor's blessing). Once in the second Cruise Phase vegetables are allowed on a rotation basis - in some cases 5 days pure protein/5protein plus vegetables (there are other variations such as 7/7 and 2/7, all dependent on your goals). So yes, it can technically include veggies in the first week if your Attack Phase is less than 7 days. However, regardless of the length of your Attack Phase, this component of the diet is pure protein and you are not discouraged from eating as much as you want. A serving of skinless chicken breast has only 0.5 grams of saturated fats, but four servings adds up to 2 grams; salmon has 1.5 grams but four servings make 6 grams. It's not the quality of the protein that leads to the rise in saturated fats, but the quantity. My point is, without some filters as to what the body understands as sensible balance, high-protein diets can have unhealthy outcomes.
Atropos April 05, 2011 at 07:10 PM
I take all you say on board, but this diet is being misrepresented in many quarters as a high-fat no-veg regime, when it most certainly is not. I was recommended the Dukan diet by my consultant, and have followed it successful for some time. Dr Dukan himself now recommends a three day Attack phase for the majority of users. Oatbran, rhubarb, fresh herbs, onion and garlic are part of the diet from day 1. The standard rotation in cruise is one day pure protein and one day protein and vegetables. I just checked my diary to see what I ate on day three of the diet - Breakfast - a spinach and mushroom omelette with tea Lunch - grilled prawns with ginger, lemon grass and garlic, with Konjac noodles, with sparkling water Dinner - a rich stew of tomatoes, carrots, brocoli and onions and chili, with oatbran dumplings. Dessert - Greek Yogurt with baked rhubarb and orange zest. As to your suggestion that the dieter might be tempted to eat 4 servings of chicken or salmon at a single sitting; gross over-feeding on that scale would be a dangerous abuse of any diet - those 4 servings of salmon would still not equally the level of saturated fat in a single regular size Starbucks latte, or a 50gram bar of chocolate. To put it another way; drinking 8 litres of water could prove fatal, but would you discourage people from increasing their water consumption?
Atropos April 05, 2011 at 07:37 PM
Sorry - that menu above was for day four, not three...
Mary Porter, CHC April 05, 2011 at 08:31 PM
It's clear this diet is evolving to a more balanced approach and your postings would indicate that you have achieved some success with it. But for someone not under a physician's guidance, it would be easy to over-interpret the phases and over-consume harmful amounts. It's the imbalance they might experience that I caution against. I hope that readers will see your postings in order to understand that the methods promoted by this diet do not have to taken to the extreme to achieve success.
Atropos April 05, 2011 at 08:38 PM
> I hope that readers will see your postings in order to understand that the methods promoted by this diet do not have to taken to the extreme to achieve success. All I did was borrow Dr Dukan's book from the library, and follow his suggestions. Over the following months I lost a steady 2lbs a week, week in week out, reduced my BMI from 31 to 25, and have (so far, touch wood) stayed there.
Suzie March 06, 2012 at 11:14 AM
OH what to do??? I have been thinking about the diet myself but with the cost involved and not sure of the success rate that concerns me.. Any advice?

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