The Diet du Jour: Dukan
The Succulent Wife's note: We are always wary of the latest diet fad and never pay much attention, but friends and family members seem to be raving about this particular diet. Really. Firsthand accounts. So we decided to take a closer – and scientific – look by asking our very own Dr. T to weigh on the merit of Dukan's approach. Seems valid but, of course, decide for yourself.
By Mrs/Dr. T, Snarky PhD Scientist and Guest Contributor
What do Kate Middleton’s middle, Pippa’s rear, and J Lo’s stems have in common? Purportedly, The Dukan Diet.
If you haven’t heard of The Dukan Diet, perhaps you’re familiar with its other names: The Atkins Diet or The South Beach Diet. Sure, the book jacket is different and the “allowable food lists” vary slightly between the three diets, but strip away these nuances, and what you have is essentially another low carbohydrate, high protein diet. So if it’s just a reincarnation of its predecessors, why is it one of the most popular diets in France and quickly gaining popularity around the world? It’s simply science…these diets work.
There have been dozens and dozens of research trials conducted on low carbohydrate, high protein diets. In studies where participants are compliant with the diet (and this is key), there is greater weight loss and the weight is lost more quickly on a low carbohydrate, high protein diet. Why? According to The Dukan Diet, the diet works because the body has to burn energy to digest and metabolize protein. Dr. Dukan writes, “after eating 1,500 calories worth of proteins…only 1,050 calories remain after digestion” (pg. 28).
While this is true to some extent, tests have shown that it’s more like 70 calories a day that are burned up by eating a higher protein diet. And it’s not because it takes that much more energy to digest and metabolize protein…our bodies are highly efficient at converting food into energy. But rather, high amounts of dietary protein (and estimates are ~20 grams of protein per meal) stimulates synthesis of proteins within the body, which takes energy. While 70 calories may seem small, it does add up over time giving higher protein diets a metabolic advantage over other diets.
Protein is also more satiating than carbohydrate or fat. In studies where participants are given different foods and asked to eat until full, they consume fewer calories when munching on protein-containing foods. It’s not exactly clear why, but most experts think that the building blocks of protein (also known as amino acids) trigger hormones in the body that tell the brain it’s full.
There is another big and underappreciated reason why high protein, low carbohydrate diets work: food group restriction. Chips, crackers, candy, soda, alcoholic beverages…these food groups go hand in hand with mindless munching. High protein foods, generally speaking, do not. Have you ever sat on the couch and inhaled a carton of hard boiled eggs? Take all of these easy-to-grab, cheap, carbohydrate foods out of your life and calorie management gets a little easier. Coupled with the greater satiety benefit of protein and the “70 calorie advantage”, chances are the pounds will peel off a lot easier than with other diets.
Will a low carbohydrate, high protein diet work for everyone? A resounding NO! In fact, if you look at all the research studies, you see that there are always certain individuals that GAIN weight on these diets. Differences between people in metabolism, taste preferences, hormones that control appetite, and lifestyle choices can influence how many pounds are lost or gained on any the diet. Individual differences also explain the appearance of side effects (e.g., constipation is the big one) in some people, but not others on a low carbohydrate, high protein diet. One day, it may be possible to take a quick blood test to find our ideal diet for weight loss based on our body chemistry. Until then, the best we can do is a little trial and error. If you’re still on that quest, The Dukan Diet is a good one to try. Viva la Protein!
Mrs/Dr. T would like to remind everyone to stay healthy by having regular check-ups with a healthcare professional and enjoying an active lifestyle.