If you haven’t heard of the Dukan diet yet, you will. It’s Europe’s hottest weight-loss craze, embraced by millions of Frenchmen with such passion that any well-known person who slims down in that country is termed a “Dukanniste,” according to the New York Times. Devotees of the high-protein, low-carb plan that promises rapid, lifelong weight loss without counting calories reportedly include Kate Middleton and her mother, who are said to be on the diet to get their figures royal wedding-ready. Other celebrities thought to have jumped on the Dukan bandwagon include Jennifer Lopez, supermodel Gisele Bundchen, and Nicole Kidman.
Now the bestselling weight loss plan is coming to the United States. Dr. Pierre Dukan, the diet’s creator, has sold 3.5 million books in France, with translations in 14 languages. In April, a North American edition is slated to make its debut, with hundreds of online forums and blogs providing a virtual support group. Although the Dukan diet will be marketed as “the real reason the French stay thin,” critics contend that the diet is just a warmed-over version of the Atkins plan.
The diet consists of four stages: attack, cruise, consolidation, and stabilization. During the first stage, dieters are limited to low-fat, high-protein foods, plus oat bran, washed down with water. In the second stage, they are allowed to add vegetables (but no fruit) every other day. Once dieters have shed the desired amount of weight, they move to a lengthy phase in which two weekly “celebration” meals with wine and dessert are permitted, along with modest amounts of bread, fruit and cheese.
In the final stage, which lasts for a lifetime, people can eat anything they want six days a week and follow the strict low-fat, high-protein phase one plan on the seventh day. The diet also requires a 20-minute daily walk and taking the stairs instead of an elevator.
However, even before the American launch, the diet has been deemed potentially risky, due to the low consumption of fruits and vegetables. “From the cardiovascular standpoint, the Dukan diet doesn’t sound healthy,” says Bradley Bale, MD, medical director of the Heart Health Program at Grace Clinic in Lubbock, Texas. “A large European study reported earlier this year that for each additional daily serving of fruits and vegetables a person eats, the risk of dying from a heart attack drops by 4 percent. In the long run, the Mediterranean diet is the best overall for heart health.”
The European study, which involved 313,074 men and women, also found that those who ate at least eight 80-gram portions of fruits and vegetables a day were 22 percent less likely to die from heart disease over the 8.4 year study period than were people who ate fewer than three portions.
The Dukan diet has also come under attack from the French government’s National Agency for Food, Environmental and Work Health Safety, which labeled it as one of 15 unbalanced and potentially risk diets, while the British Dietetic Association has called it one of the worst diets of 2011, according to the New York Times. Dr. Dukan, however, has many success stories of people who lost large amounts of weight on the diet, which he accidentally discovered in 1970.
Then a neurologist in Paris, Dr. Dukan was treating an obese, asthmatic patient who had failed on other diets. The patient was willing to try anything as long as he could eat meat. Dr. Dukan told him to eat nothing but protein and was amazed when the man returned five days later, 11 pounds thinner. The doctor then studied nutrition and spent two decades fine-tuning his diet with thousands of patients. However, the diet, which has similarities to the low-carb, high protein Atkins plan, has not been rigorously tested in a clinical trial.
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