The Dukan Diet: Unhealthy Fad Diet Or Great Way To Lose Pounds?

dukan-dietThe media is buzzing about the Dukan Diet, a popular french diet known about for years, that is now sparking interest in the United States. With celebrities like Penelope Cruz claiming to lose baby weight by using this diet and soon-to-be Princess Kate Middleton supposedly using this diet to lose some pre-wedding weight; it made us curious. The media claims that this is not a fat diet and is a legitimate and healthy way to drop some pounds fast and then stay on a healthy regimen. But we want to know: what exactly are the pros and cons of this new diet trend?

Pierre Dukan appears to know what he is doing. Dukan, a nutritionist for over 30 years, is a specialist in food behaviour. He is the most widely read nutritionist in France today. Pierre Dukan is also the author of 19 books selling 2.5 million copies including the best-seller ‘I don’t know how to lose weight’ (The Dukan Diet book in French), the result of thirty years of research and practice and reference book for the diet method.

Essentially, it’s a four-phase, high-protein, low-calorie diet plan. There’s no weighing foods or counting calories. You eat as much as you want, at any time of day – as long as what you’re eating is lean protein, at least initially. In fact, protein is the centerpiece in all four phases, along with oat bran, lots of water, and a 20-minute daily walk. Vegetables are allowed in the second stage, followed by small amounts of fruit and whole grains. Sound familiar? It’s much like the first Atkins diet. Dieters lose weight rapidly – as much as 1-2 pounds a day during the first phase — which Dukan says helps to instill lasting motivation. He promises that hunger will disappear after the third day. However, the book warns that dieters may suffer from bad breath, constipation, dry mouth, and fatigue — all consequences of low-carb, high-protein diets.

The Dukan Diet: What You Can Eat

Phase 1, the “Attack” phase, is quite simple: Eat all you want of lean protein, along with 1.5 tablespoons of oat bran and 1.5 liters of water daily. That’s it.  Dieters can choose from 72 lean or low-fat meats (excluding pork and lamb), fish, poultry, eggs, soy, and nonfat dairy.

This is followed by the “Cruise” phase, which allows unlimited amounts of 28 non-starchy vegetables every other day along with a core diet of unlimited lean/low-fat protein and 2 tablespoons of oat bran. Carrots, peas, corn, and potatoes are not on this list of vegetables but appear in the next phase.

Phase 3, “Consolidation,” allows unlimited protein (including pork and lamb) and vegetables every day, along with one piece of low-sugar fruit, 2 slices of whole-grain bread, and 1 portion of hard cheese. Dieters can also have 1-2 servings of starchy foods and 1-2 “celebration” meals (in which you can eat whatever you want) per week during this phase.  In this phase, you begin the lifetime commitment of eating the core diet of pure protein one day each week, preferably the same day.

Phase 4, “Stabilization,” is the maintenance portion of the plan.  The author promises you can eat whatever you like without regain if you follow his rules – one day a week, follow the same all-protein diet as in Phase 1; eat 3 tablespoons of oat bran a day; and walk for 20 minutes daily and never take elevators or escalators.

Sugar-free gum, artificial sweeteners, vinegars, and spices are allowed on The Dukan Diet. The book encourages dieters to take a daily multivitamin with minerals.

In theory, this is how the plan works: Phase 1 promotes rapid weight loss with a protein-only diet.  Stay on this phase anywhere from 1-10 days, and expect to lose at a rate of 7 pounds in 5 days.

During Phase 2, which could last for months, depending on how much weight you need to lose, your body recuperates and adjusts to your weight loss. Dukan recommends sticking with this phase until you reach your goal weight, with the expectation of dropping 2 pounds per week.

Phase 3 is the critically important period between weight loss and maintenance, when the plan lightens up a bit but no weight loss is expected. This is a time when your body is vulnerable to putting pounds back on, according to the book. But if you stay in this phase five days for every pound you’ve lost, the book says, you’ll avoid regain.

Phase 4, the maintenance part of the plan, is meant to be lifelong. You’ll keep the weight off for good, the book says, if you follow this phase’s requirements for a weekly all-protein day, plus oat bran and exercise.

The Dukan Diet: What the Experts Say

You’ll certainly lose weight on The Dukan Diet because it cuts calories drastically. The lack of carbs also helps keep hunger at bay. But the bottom line, experts say, is that this eating plan does not include all the nutrients you need for good health. ”A once-daily multivitamin will not compensate for the nutritional goodness from fruits, whole grains and healthy fats that are inadequate in The Dukan Diet,” says Keri Gans, MS, RD, a spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association. She points out the health hazards of restrictive dieting.  “When dieters start losing weight rapidly, I worry they will continue the restrictive phases longer than advised — which puts them at risk for nutrient deficiencies and kidney problems,” says Gans. Losing more than 1-2 pounds per week can promote gallstones and muscle loss, she says:  “It is unhealthy to lose weight so quickly because you not only lose fat and fluids but precious muscle mass, which is really hard to replace, especially as you get older.” Constipation, bad breath, dry mouth, and fatigue should be a red flag that this is not a healthy diet, she says. ”Your body’s preferred fuel to energize and keep you going is smart carbs, and when you eat a healthy diet you should feel great — not have negative side effects,” Gans says.

The Dukan Diet: Food for Thought

There is no question this very restrictive diet will lead to weight loss, if you can actually follow it.  But the elimination of healthy food groups, and the unpleasant side effects, makes The Dukan Diet an unlikely choice for the long haul. Protein is an essential part of a healthy diet, but it cannot stand alone.  A truly healthy diet includes all the food groups — vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and low-fat dairy and healthy fats along with lean protein. Your body needs the nutrients these foods provide. Skip this fad diet. Instead, choose a calorie-controlled eating plan that you can stick with for the long term.

Perhaps we’ll leave this one to the French.

Courtesy of

Interested in more? Look at Dukan’s website.

© 2011 Copyright   Allison Stuart Kaplan LLC

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  1. Ahhhh, the Kate Middleton diet—I hear so many awful things about ‘yo-yo’ dieting, and the Dugan Diet decries ‘fad.’ Personally, I could never do it. I did try, the other day, to do without carbs and stick to protein. I need more of that in my diet, and it was hard! I am too thin, and that is probably because I have food allergies ( severe) that limit my choices. I was a vegetarian twice, in my life, but I can’t tolerate black beans, et al., am allergic to soy and peanuts, so that didn’t give me too many healthy choices. I eat meat, now, mostly chicken and fish ( can’t have shell fish) and I eat eggs. I also enjoy whole milk, real butter and organic sugar and honey, and heaven knows, I adore carbs. This is not for me. This and the Atkins work, but what happens when someone resumes normal eating? YIKES, the weight goes up. Portions, calories, excecise and of course, watching your intake of sugar and high calories is the best way to go.

  2. Its funny how many diets that are out there are really only good for your quick fix time and thereafter, you generally gain the weight back. The only weight loss plans that work are the ones where you can adopt it for a lifetime and not feel too deprived. I like the Glycemic Index Diet and recommend that one for most of my clients. It seems to fit everyone’s tastebuds and lifestyles and is healthy enough to keep pretty much forever. You don’t have to weigh anything or count calories. Just eyeball your portion sizes listed for that particular food and eat only what hits the glycemic index number of 70 and belo\w on the list for great results. Linda Wolschlager, Certified Nutrition Counselor/

  3. Hi,
    the dukan diet book explains in details each step of the diet, what to eat, what to expect and how your body will react through the different phases of the diet. It is full of useful everyday tips to help you increase weight loss and maintain body weight once you achieved your true weight.

  4. This is almost a direct copy of the Atkins diet. Atkins is actually better as, even in the first phase, it allows a portion of leafy veg.
    As you progress through the phases, these diets allow more veg and fruit. It is actually very good for anyone suffering from an inflammatory condition, as these are exacerbated by starch and sugar (you get enough from the fruit and veg).
    My view? – stick with the original Atkins more realistic and easier to keep to.

  5. I’ve been on the Dukan Diet for 6 weeks and am down 25 lbs. – - which is a big deal to me. I don’t feel poorly in the least.. actually.. I feel great! I wake up in the morning feeling rested… I can run and play with my daughter without feeling tired or worn. I haven’t had any ill side effects… (I will admit that I’m kinda tired of meat but – whatcha gonna do?! LOL) … and I have snuck in a meal or two of my favorite foods without losing any ground. I eat my veggies on PV days… eat my meats, dairy, etc. on PP days, take my multi-vitamins. It’s not that tough… the problem is most people would rather whine then do something that sounds a little too hard. Guess what – that’s how we got to this point! HELLO! But – I’m rocketing along and couldn’t be more thrilled. :D I’m telling you – instead of “BLAH BLAHING” about it – try it. I’ve turned a number of people onto it and they’re also pounding out awesome results. That’s how I learned about the diet!!

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