The Dukan Diet: The Next Controversial Weight-Loss Craze?

When celebrities like Jennifer Lopez sing the praises of a particular diet, the public takes notice. That helps explain why the Dukan diet has gained prominence in recent years.

Dr. Pierre Dukan’s creation – a high-protein, low-carb diet that promises rapid weight loss – was tabbed one of the top overall diets for 2024 by U.S. News. Public figures like model Gisele Bundchen have praised the Dukan diet for helping them lose baby weight, with some dropping as much as 10 pounds within a week of starting the plan.

“The Dukan diet’s rising popularity stems from its structured phases, emphasizing lean protein and promising rapid initial weight loss,” Michelle Routhenstein, a registered dietitian nutritionist, told The Food Institute. “Celebrity endorsements and cultural visibility have further fueled its appeal.”

“The Dukan diet also doesn’t promote counting calories, or necessarily tracking food intake, which is a part of dieting that many people dislike,” said Sarah Herrington, nutritionist at Brio-Medical. “There are a wide variety of foods one can consume without limit, which make the diet attractive to many.”

Unique Elements of the Dukan Plan

Dr. Dukan theorized that protein is the key to weight loss, in part because it’s filling and takes time to digest. Meanwhile, limiting carbs – the body’s preferred energy source – forces the body to use stored fat as fuel, as U.S. News noted.

Dr. Dukan’s strategy encourages dieters to, in time, slowly return to eating items like bread and cheese. The diet consists of four main phases:

  • Attack phase: For two to seven days, dieters eat pure protein.
  • Cruise phase: At this stage, dieters are allowed to eat certain vegetables on select days.
  • Consolidation phase: At this point, dieters add foods like bread and cheese.
  • Stabilization phase: Eventually, the Dukan diet suggests three key strategies: have 3 tablespoons of oat bran each day, walk 20 minutes daily, and eat pure protein on Thursdays.

Controversial Elements

The Dukan diet initially restricts food groups like fruits and whole grains, which experts say could negatively impact heart health by potentially increasing cholesterol levels.

“The Dukan diet’s long-term safety is concerning, due to its extreme focus on protein, which may strain the kidneys, increase risk of heart failure, and lead to nutritional deficiencies from limited food variety,” Routhenstein added.

Keys to Doing Dukan Right

Medical experts suggest consulting with a registered dietitian before starting the Dukan diet. A dietitian can assess individual dietary needs and goals while also providing tailored advice to limit health risks. Experts also encourage regular health checkups while practicing the diet.

“A dietitian can help create a more sustainable eating plan beyond the Dukan diet to maintain weight loss and overall health for the long term,” Routhenstein said.

Ultimately, many health experts view the Dukan diet as mainly a short-term option for those needing to lose weight.

“No diet as restrictive as the Dukan diet will promote longevity of healthy eating; it’s why dieting usually fails,” Herrington said. “This diet can potentially allow for a ‘resetting’ of your body and digestive system in positive ways but shouldn’t be followed long term.”

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